NEWARK, N.J.---If the Devils can keep getting some bounces and going to shootouts, perhaps they will make the playoffs.
David Clarkson forced overtime by grabbing Andy Greene’s long flip-in that bounced off a stanchion and sliding the puck through Martin Biron’s skates with 47.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 3 and Ilya Kovalchuk scored the only goal of the shootout to cap a wild finish in a 4-3 defeat of the Rangers at Prudential Center last night.
The Rangers, who led three times, lamented a lost opportunity for two points in regulation. “We were in total control (ahead 3-2),” Rangers coach John Tortorella of Clarkson’s goal. “It’s not like we had a breakdown or anything like that, it’s a rim, it goes off the stanchion. You don’t want to accept it, but again, you hope one will go your way later in the year. You can’t do anything about it. We take the point and we go to Buffalo (to play tonight).”
The eighth-place Devils, with 57 points, are 9-2 in shootouts, with Kovalchuk the league leader, converting eight of his nine attempts. “When Kovy goes down and scores practically every time…the stats say the team that gets the first goal usually wins,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer. “I liked our resiliency.”
The latest chapter of the Battle of the Hudson in the first game for each team after the All-Star break featured an unusual matchup between the two Marty B’s---Brodeur and Biron, who made his first start against the Devils as a Ranger after Henrik Lundqvist had started 37 straight regular-season and playoff games in the cross-river rivalry. Brodeur, who made 23 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik in the shootout, helped clinch the comeback.
The thrilling third period featured three late goals in 4:35.
Michael Del Zotto had scored off a backhanded cross-ice pass from Gaborik with a wrister that went under Brodeur’s right arm for with 3:59 to play, a score that provided a 3-2 Rangers lead and appeared to be the game-winner. Del Zotto’s goal came just 36 seconds after Kovalchuk scored from the high slot on the Devils third power play to tie the game at 2 at 15:25. The Rangers, meanwhile, could not convert on their three opportunities with the man-advantage; Tortorella declined to discuss the continuing futility afterward.
It was his call to rest Lundqvist, who has dominated the Devils and was the difference-maker when the Rangers won 4-1 here on Dec. 20, stopping 30 of 31 shots. But Tortorella decided to give him an extra day after the All-Star journey to Ottawa. For more than two periods, Biron kept up his pace.
Biron, who was 9-2-0 with a 1.87 goals-against average, had stopped Kovalchuk’s backhander on a shorthanded breakaway early in the third period to preserve a 1-1 tie forged on rebound goals by Anton Stralman and Zach Parise. Brian Boyle scooped up a point shot that hit his foot, went wide left on a fallen Brodeur and lifted the puck in at 2:37 for a 2-1 edge, the second lead that the Blueshirts, who have 67 points, couldn’t hold.
“It’s disappointing for everybody,” said Biron. “It’s as frustrating as ever, you were able to limit their chances down the stretch and you get a bad bounce. It happens.”