Give the Devils their due.
Needing a win at Madison Square Garden to tie the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night, the Devils set the tone early in Game 2, winning battles, scoring first, getting shots through the vaunted Rangers defense and emerging with a 3-2 victory.
"Our first period wasn't what we wanted," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "Their forecheck and battles, they were coming out with more of those than we were. In the corners and along the wall, they were pinching and cycling us pretty good. We battled back in the second but weren't able to finish the job in the third."
That's when David Clarkson, perched in front of the crease, tipped Adam Henrique's shot past Henrik Lundqvist at 2:31 to break a 2-2 tie and send the Blueshirts to their third consecutive 3-2 Game 2 loss in these playoffs.
"I saw the puck," said Lundqvist, who made 24 saves, "but after he touched it, it was just too tough to recover."
Actually, the Rangers never recovered from a crushing goal with 1:51 left in the second period when, with the Rangers leading 2-1 on two consecutive power-play goals, the Devils' fourth line knotted the game. Ryan Carter deflected Bryce Salvador's shot by Lundqvist after some sloppy play by the Rangers in their own zone.
"We were doing a good job in the second, had some good chances, and we were up 2-1," Carl Hagelin said. "It's too bad we gave up the second one. We've got to pick it up."
So the pattern in April and May continued. Win one, lose one. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon in Newark.
"Our execution was much better," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Rangers, meanwhile, managed only 25 shots on goal. "We definitely didn't get enough on net," said Ryan Callahan, who had only one shot on goal of the three shots he attempted. "We didn't have enough time in their end."
The Devils had the best chances in the first period and left for intermission with a 1-0 lead on Ilya Kovalchuk's high laser from the lower left circle on the power play at 13:39 with Brian Boyle off for slashing.
At 10:48, Martin Brodeur was down, but stacked his pads to deflect Marian Gaborik's backhanded rebound from about 12 feet. That was the highlight for Gaborik, who was benched for most of the third period, skating just 3:07, after he failed to clear the puck out of the Rangers' zone late in the second period which led to a goal.
Coach John Tortorella refused to talk about his decision to bench Gaborik.
A strange second period that included a six-minute delay while the jammed door to the visitors' penalty box was repaired, ended with the score tied at 2. At 2:23, Staal was credited with a power-play goal that tied the score at 1 when his long shot caromed off the end boards to the right post. As Derek Stepan swung and missed, the puck hit Brodeur and slid behind him.
"Went off my pad and glove," Brodeur said. "The ice is not good, the boards are awful and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere. You really have to look at the puck all game long."
After the door delay at 10:32 while Travis Zajac waited to enter, Anton Stralman's shot hit the shaft of Chris Kreider's stick in front, bounced off Brodeur and gave the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead with 7:41 left in the second period. It was the rookie's fourth goal of the playoffs.
But it wasn't enough for the Rangers to secure their first two-game lead in a series. The Devils, who also had lost Game 1 against the Flyers in the previous round before winning four straight, pushed harder all game.
"We made their D turn around and get pucks," Zach Parise said. "We need to do a better job of staying out of the box. All they got was really on the power play."
"They wanted it a little more," Lundqvist said. "We have to correct a few things, the battles and stick positioning. They were coming in really desperate and we had to match it."