On a night in which Stephane Matteau was in the house to rekindle memories of a similar night against the same foe 18 years prior, it was a slapshot off the stick of Dan Girardi that gave the Rangers all the offense they would need in their 3-0 win over the Devils in Game One of the Eastern Conference final.
“I want to be a difference maker,” Girardi said after the Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Wednesday night at the Garden.
As benefitting two defensively conscious teams, Game 1 was, to use Rangers head coach John Tortorella’s assessment of the game, a “ping pong” match with little sustained pressure in either offensive zone.
The most zone time either team had occurred in the second period in which the Devils generated 11 of their 21 shots towards Henrik Lundqvist.
The game was a showcase for the considerable talents of Lundqvist and Ryan McDonagh. The franchise goaltender and cornerstone defenseman were the best Rangers on the ice by a wide margin.
McDonagh eliminated potential breakaways for Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk by simply backchecking. He also drew the Rangers’ second power play by forcing Dainius Zubrus to hook him in the defensive zone just under three minutes into the second period.
“He’s such a good skater,” Lundqvist said of McDonagh. “It looked like he was pretty far behind, but he can catch up. He’s such a good skater [that] he can be aggressive in this game.”
“You want more traffic. You want more shots. We’ve got to find a way to stick them in the back
of the neck. We know we can do
that. We’ve done it before,” Devils coach Peter
DeBoer said. “We watched Washington
score on them. We watched Ottawa score on them. We’ve just got to find a way.”
Lundqvist’s three most important saves occurred midway through the Rangers’ third power play when he stoned Parise three times from in close.
“That was an important sequence,” Tortorella said. “We worked off a puck, and Parise ends up with three great chances. Hank was really good in the second period.”
It would take Girardi’s slapshot from the point 53 seconds into the third that eluded Martin Brodeur (25 saves) to break the scoreless tie.
The Rangers had a lead and Chris Kreider’s breakaway power play goal 7:07 later would guarantee that the Blueshirts would leave the Garden with a series lead. Kreider, who was sprung by Girardi and Artem Anisimov, bore down towards the Eighth Avenue end of the ice before snapping a shot past the future Hall of Famer.
“He’s got a lethal shot,” McDonagh said of Kreider. “If he gets a second to get it off, scary things can happen. [He] and [Carl Hagelin] are key guys for us and it’s great for him to score that goal.”
Anisimov added an empty netter with 1:27 left.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.