They needed to regain the momentum. They need to prove that their 7 game regular-season winning streak against the Devils means nothing and that their season ending shootout loss to New Jersey means nothing either. The New York Rangers needed to start the playoffs with a clean slate and a fast start. That is exactly what they did in a 4-1 win over their Hudson River rivals.
It was a physical game as expected, one that most players left with bumps and bruises. There were a total of 61 hits dished out and players were being knocked down all over the ice. Sean Avery and Jaromir Jagr both took pucks to the face. The Rangers managed to play their game despite that, being agressive but not overly so. The Devils, in search of more offense, displayed a superb forecheck that slowed down the Rangers' exit from their end of the ice. The game began as one would expect a Game 1 to start. The adrenaline was flowing through the players veins and the action was fast paced and furious. After the first 10 minutes the play slowed to a more conservative style as no team wanted to surrender the first goal. Though each team had its fair share of chances in the first period nobody could put a puck past either goaltender.
The Rangers broke through at 1:45 of the second period, just as a Paul Martin interference penalty had expired. Scott Gomez, who tallied three assists on the night, split the Devils defense before dishing the puck to Brendan Shanahan at the right slot. Shanahan took a wrist shot that fluttered through the legs of Brodeur for a 1-0 Rangers lead. The Devils struck back at 14:14 of the second with a power play goal. The Devils controlled the puck in the offensive zone for the entire power play and got a good break when Martin Straka's stick snapped in half. Though Straka slid all over the ice to block shots and passes, the Devils were on a virtual 5 on 3 when it came to puck possesion. Finally, when it appeared the Rangers would be able to clear, Zach Parise knocked the puck away from Rangers defenders two times while lying flat on the ice. Patrick Elias controlled the puck along the left board before sending it across to Paul Martin in the right slot. Martin put a good fake on Fedor Tyutin who slid out of the way before shooting it through the pads of Henrik Lundqvist to tie. As the second frame ended, New Jersey seemed to have the momentum as the Devils fans' voices dominated the Prudential Center.
In following the regular season pattern, the two teams entered the third period all knotted up. Both teams were being careful to avoid making a costly mistake that could break the tie. It was the most unlikely of candidates who did make that costly error, one that occurred because of his stickhandling skill and not in spite of it. The Rangers broke down the ice shorthanded and Ryan Callahan ripped a shot from the right wing boards that Broduer stopped with his pad. The puck richocheted of the skates of players driving to the net and settled in front of Martin Brodeur. The Devils goalie looked to make an outlet pass down ice, not realizing that Callahan was swopping behind the net toward the unprotected puck. Before Brodeur could react, Callahan whacked the puck past Broduer, who fell to the ice in shock and frustration. The momentum had shifted for good and the Rangers sealed their lead with 2:57 left in the game. Sean Avery stole the puck in the neutral zone and passed it ahead to Scott Gomez. Gomez drove down the left boards and started to go behind the goal, before throwing the puck to the front of the net. The puck hit the skate of Sergie Brylin and settled in front of a driving Avery who put it into the unguarded net. The Rangers capped the scoring with an empty net goal as Brendan Shanahan defered the gimme goal to Nigel Dawes, allowing the rookie to score his first career playoff goal.
The game ended on a note of teamwork and unity for the Rangers. It was that team play that got them past the Devils in Game 1 and should help them during their entire playoff run. 14 out of 18 skaters had a shot on goal, an astounding total when the team took 28 shots in the entire game. The passing was strong, the teamwork was good and most importantly, the Rangers capitalized on key opportunities. In all facets, excluding opportunistic play, it was an even match. The Rangers outshot the Devils by 1, and both teams had good chances. The Devils forechecked well, forcing the Rangers into many turnovers and generating many scoring opportunities. But in Game 1, Henrik Lundqvist reigned supreme, making many great saves and, with the help of 3 crossbars, holding the Devils to one goal.
Once again a third period decided the fate of the Rangers and Devils. It is a pattern that is to be expected for the rest of the series. But the New York Rangers will gladly accept that, as they have thrived in that postition on numerous occassions. True, the season begins anew when the playoff comes, but the teams are the same and the Rangers are still the End Game Masters.