Down three games to two against the Senators in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Rangers won Game 6 in Ottawa to stay alive and force a Game 7 at home.
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In a strange, but dramatic Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, the Rangers shockingly fell behind by three goals in the first 10 minutes, fought back with their best sustained offensive effort of the series to tie it in the third, but succumbed on Ryan Carter's goal with 4:24 left in regulation. Zach Parise's empty-netter sealed the Devils' 5-3 win with 31.2 seconds left.
"We had a tough start, tough luck on a couple of them," said coach John Tortorella. "But I thought we probably played our best game of the series. We climbed out of it; the fourth goal was just a number of mistakes. When we tied it, we stopped making plays."
Forward Patrik Elias knew the Devils were fortunate. "We stole this one," he said.
Marian Gaborik, who hadn't found the net in the series, tied the score at 3 on a shot from the right side at the 17-second mark of the third period. The puck trickled behind Martin Brodeur and off the far post. It then hit his skate, and as he reached back with his glove, it trickled over the line past Brodeur, who finished with 25 saves and was under siege for most of the second and third periods.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect for the Rangers has been their slow starts and their reliance on Henrik Lundqvist to bail them out. Wednesday night, they had another unfortunate start but this time Lundqvist couldn't bail them out.
The Devils scored twice in the first five minutes and added a third at 9:49, on just five shots. Stephen Gionta scored on a rebound of a long shot by Mark Fayne at 2:43. Then Adam Henrique's shot hit Elias' skate, Artem Anisimov's heel and slid past Lundqvist at 4:13. The team scoring first in the last 13 Rangers games has won them all.
The Rangers had their own chances to get on the board early on. Ruslan Fedotenko's wraparound bounced off Brodeur and right to Gaborik, who fired high at 6:31. Brodeur also stopped Derek Stepan's rebound from 10 feet at 7:05. Brandon Prust got the Rangers one back with his first of the playoffs at 15:41. Fedotenko gloved Marek Zidlicky's pass and fed Prust, who sped in and backhanded the puck past Brodeur to give the Rangers and the Garden fans some hope.
"There wasn't too much said in the room," said Ryan Callahan, who had six hits and some critical blocks on the penalty kill. "We knew we had to claw our way back and we did . . . We've been good on the road all year. We've just got to win one road game."
Fedotenko lamented the missed opportunities in the first. "If we had buried those, maybe this would be different," he said. "We gave them a couple breaks and they capitalized. We got a couple breaks, also.''
One was when Anisimov's centering pass deflected off the left skate of Callahan, cutting through the crease, and through Brodeur at the 32-second mark of the second to trim the lead to 3-2.
"If we go back to New Jersey and play like we did most of this game," Brad Richards said, "we'll have a chance."