The fireworks started ludicrously early. They ended incredibly late.
The two instances were the only explosions the Rangers displayed in their 1-0 loss to the Devils Tuesday night at the Garden.
Things got ugly when Artem Anisimov’s apparent game-tying goal with 3.5 seconds was waved off when Marian Gaborik barreled into Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Gaborik was called for goaltender interference and fans threw garbage onto the ice. Garden public address announcer Joe Tolleson implored the crowd to not litter the ice with debris after a beer bottle landed by the logo at center.
As Tolleson pled for calm, Rangers coach John Tortorella was anything but as he demanded an explanation from referees Dan O’Rourke and Dean Morton.
“I’m not commenting,” Tortorella said when his post-game press conference opened with a question about the disallowed goal. “I’m not going to comment on it.”
Tortorella and Devils coach Peter DeBoer started their fourth lines in an effort to set the tone for the game. Not coincidentally, gloves dropped to the ice two seconds after the opening faceoff. Brandon Prust fought Eric Boulton while Mike Rupp squared off with Cam Janssen.
The bouts clearly energized the Devils as the Rangers were outshot, 9-0, and outscored, 1-0, in the first 11:53. David Clarkson’s power-play one-timer off of Zach Parise feed 8:14 into the match was the game-deciding goal. Clarkson used a Ranger to screen Henrik Lundqvist while Parise set up from behind the goal. The goal was Clarkson’s career-high 21st.
“[The Devils] were a little bit quicker. We got going and I thought we played pretty well after that,” Tortorella said. “They score one and we don’t. That’s the difference in the game.”
New Jersey effectively neutralized the Rangers by successfully implementing the system that has been the bedrock of Devils hockey for nearly two decades. The neutral zone was so clogged that studio apartments are more spacious than the ice in the offensive zone was last night.
Brodeur did not have to work especially hard to increase his NHL record for wins (643) and shutouts (117). The Rangers’ best chances occurred in the second period when Prust just missed on a two-on-one with Brandon Dubinsky. Later, with an opportunity for a breakaway, the puck bounced on Marian Gaborik.
It was the final 20 in which Brodeur displayed his Hall of Fame form as the Rangers outshot New Jersey 15-1 in the third and finished the game with an 30-22 advantage in shots.
“I thought we played a great third period,” Ryan Callahan said. “We need to have a better start. That’s what hurt us the most.”
Without an effective line, Tortorella was relegated to line-juggling save for the trio of Gaborik, Anisimov and Derek Stepan. Dubinsky skated with Prust and Brian Boyle. The triumvirate of Rupp, Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko was formed.
The power play was ineffective last night as it has been throughout the season. The Rangers were scoreless on three opportunities with the man advantage. The Rangers are now three for their last 51 chances on the power play dating back to Dec. 23.
“It came down to special teams,” Lundqvist said. “They’re a pretty good team. They have a lot of skilled guys, especially on the power play. They move the puck really well.
“In the second half and playoffs, especially, we have to make sure our power play and our penalty kill is sharp.”
The Rangers are 1-1-1 against the Devils this season. The game was the
second matchup between the Hudson River rivals in eight days. There are
three games remaining.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.