The Rangers got exactly what they deserved Wednesday night.
As a result, the Eastern Conference finals are tied, 1-1. The Rangers were a step slow throughout their 3-2 loss in Game 2. The now best-of-five series reconvenes with Game 3 Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center. The Rangers have dropped the second game in all three series this postseason after winning Game 1.
“Tonight was one of those nights where we didn’t have it,” said Carl Hagelin. “It was one of those nights where if you’re not ready to play you’re going to lose battles.”
David Clarkson’s tip of Adam Henrique’s point shot 2:31 into the third period was the game-winning goal.
Collectively, the Rangers spoke after Tuesday’s practice of the importance of playing with desperation. They did not. It was the Devils that were the aggressors, pushed the tempo and seemingly won the majority of battles.
“They played the same style [of game] as they did in the first game,” Hagelin said. “Today we didn’t have that jump we need to get on pucks first.
“No, I can’t,” Hagelin said when asked if he could put a finger on why he and his teammates were devoid of energy.
The Devils fired 23 shots in the opening period compared to the Rangers’ seven.
Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring 13:39 into the match by whipping a power play wrist shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist high glove side. Lundqvist yielded all three goals on 27 shots.
Despite their sluggish play, the Rangers did have a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
Marc Staal equalized 2:23 into the second with a goal that ricocheted off Bryce Salvador, the end boards and Martin Brodeur (23 saves) before it rolled into the goal. And Chris Kreider’s redirection of an Anton Stralman wrister from the half boards at 12:19 gave the Rangers their only lead of the game.
Kreider’s fourth goal of the playoffs tied him with Eddie Mazur for most goals scored in the playoffs before scoring a regular season goal. The goal was Kreider’s sixth point of the playoffs, which tied him with Mazur and George McPhee for most points scored in a playoff season before recording a regular season point.
Ryan Carter’s second of the playoffs evened the game at 2-2 at 18:09 of the second.
It did not help the Rangers’ cause that Marian Gaborik was a non-entity. The 41-goal scorer in the regular season was benched for the first half of the third period with the Rangers trailing by a goal. He was minus-one with two shots in 14:28 of ice time in the first two periods.
“Well, you want to be there, obviously,” Gaborik said when asked if he was frustrated that he was not on the ice in the final 1:30. Gaborik has not scored a goal since Game 6 of the Washington series. His four goals and 10 points rank second on the team behind Brad Richards.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella would not discuss his rationale for benching Gaborik, instead opting to say that the Rangers “need to improve as a hockey team.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.