It was deja’ vu all over again as the Rangers dominated the New Jersey Devils for a second straight game at the Rock.
In what was a good ol’ fashioned NHL playoff game, very intense and exceedingly physical, the Rangers scored five unanswered goals as they beat the Devils, 5-1 in game two of the best of seven, Eastern Conference first round series.
The Rangers now lead the series two games to none with game three set for Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. “They’re [Devils] a good team, we wanted to come in here and play two solid games,” defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. “It feels good getting two here and going back to MSG.”
Patrick Kane had his best game in a Ranger uniform and was the #1 star with a goal and two assists. Chris Kreider has been a force down low on the power play with two more power play goals, while Adam Fox added two more assists to give him six points in the two games. Fox became the first Ranger defenseman in franchise history to have six points in the first two post season games.
After winning game one by an identical 5-1 score, the Rangers’ theme in the post game locker room was that they needed to be better in game two. Even though they got behind in this one, mission accomplished.
The Rangers’ defense has been superb in both games as they have been able to negate the Devils speed by limiting their open space. They’ve finished their checks, their stick work has been outstanding, and the coverage in front of their own net has been rock solid.
“They’re [Devils] a skilled team, they’re gonna get their chances,” Lindgren said. “We did a pretty good of that [limiting the chances]. We kinda limited their second chances. It was a good game by everyone, good ‘team-d’.”
It doesn’t hurt that Igor Shesterkin continues to bring his “A” game. The 27-year old goaltender played another strong game as he made 22 saves including six on Devils superstar Jack Hughes, who had at least four prime scoring chances.
New Jersey was feeling good after they took a 1-0 lead in the first period.
With Miko Mikkola off for cross-checking and time winding down on the man advantage, New Jersey’s Eric Haula was in position to poke in a loose puck past Shesterkin to give New Jersey their first power play goal and their first lead of the series at 11:44 of the first period.
The Rangers were trailing but they had played a solid period of hockey so there was no panic in the dressing room. “First goal, didn’t really waver in our game. I don’t think we came in here, we liked the first period, kept playing the same way. We got good looks in the first period, just didn’t go in,” Jacob Trouba said.
Hughes had a prime scoring chance off the opening face off of the second period, but Shesterkin made the save and the Rangers began to take control from that point on.
Vladimir Tarasenko continued to add to his post season reputation when he tied the game with his second goal of the series at 5:53 of the second.
Adam Fox had the puck in the Devils zone and left it for Tarasenko who moved into the slot and blasted it past Vanacek. It took two scoring changes for the goal to be officially credited to Tarasenko as it appeared, Vincent Trocheck may have deflected it. No matter as the game was tied at one.
The Rangers were 0 for 2 on their first two opportunities with the man advantage, but the third time was a charm as they took their first lead.
Miles Wood was in the box for slashing Artemi Panarin and the Rangers went up 2-1 as Kreider scored his third power play goal of the series. Kane fired the puck toward the net and Kreider was able to deflect it in to give the Rangers the lead at 9:57 of the second period.
The Kane/Kreider combination clicked again on the Rangers fourth power play attempt of the game.
Timo Meier was called for holding and the Rangers didn’t waste any time as it took just 41 seconds to increase the lead to 3-1. Kane passed it down low to Kreider, who has been a real problem for the Devils defense, and he was able to deflect the puck in off the arm of Vanacek for a 3-1 lead after two.
“He’s [Kreider] one of the best, not only in the league, just that I’ve ever seen. He’s able to get his stick on everything,” Kane said.
Fox had his second assist on Kreider’s second goal, giving him six points in the series. Fox became the first defenseman in Rangers post season history to have six assists in his first two post season game.
The Rangers never let up in the third as Kane earned his first goal of the playoffs with a nifty play. Kane stole the puck from Devils left wing Jesper Bratt and was able to push it ahead where he gathered it in and skated in on left wing.
“I just kinda picked the pocket of Bratt there, pushed the puck ahead,” Kane said. “Seemed like I had a step on their [defenseman] and kreider and I were going somewhat of a 2 on 0. Was looking to pass to him but they kinda took him away so I took it to the net. Nice to see it go in.”
The future Hall of Famer drove past the net and beat Vanacek with a back hander for his first of this post season and the 53rd of his post season career as the Rangers took a commanding 4-1 lead.
Kappo Kakko, who was strong on the puck all night, scored his first of the post season at 13:05 of the third period to cap off the scoring.
The Rangers special teams played a big role once again. The Rangers killed off three of four penalties and have allowed the Devils one power play in eight attempts.
The Rangers’ power play has come alive. They were 2 for 7 on the power play in game two, 4 for 11 in two games with Kreider scoring all four.
Coach Gerard Gallant cited one factor as to why the PP is clicking so far in the post season.
“[Adam] Fox is shooting the puck now,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Instead of giving it to Mika [Zibanejad] on the side, he’s shooting more pucks and Kreider’s getting more opportunities in front of the net.”
The game got very chippy at the end.
Rangers defenseman Daniel Schneider and Devils center Michael McCloud dropped the gloves while five players from each team were sent to their respective locker rooms with 6:40 left in the game.
As was the case after game one, the Rangers are focusing on what’s ahead, not what they’ve done.
The Rangers have certainly not forgotten last season’s Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay when they had the Lightning on the ropes with a 2-0 series lead but lost four in a row.
“We know it’s far from over, been in this situation before and you gotta keep playing one game at a time,” Gallant said.