Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist delivered a 21-save shutout -- the fifth in his playoff career -- but he received some key contributions by his Rangers defensemen along the way in the team’s 3-0 win over the Devils in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh may have single-handedly saved the team in the first period with a relentless back-checking effort that negated two Devils’ breakaways.
McDonagh raced down Devils captain Zach Parise to snuff out what would’ve been a stellar scoring opportunity at 6:10 of the first and took an angle on Ilya Kovalchuk to hamper the sniper’s solo rush later in the period.
The two plays were vital in preserving a scoreless tie that endured until the game’s first goal 53 seconds into the third.
“You never want to be chasing anyone down, especially those two players,” said McDonagh, who finished with a plus-2 rating in 24:27 Monday night at Madison Square Garden. “You try and be smart and not take a penalty or not taking a penalty shot. Henrik did a good job of coming out on Kovalchuk there to cut down the angle, so it’s a combination of him and I.”
The Rangers were engulfed by the Devils in the second period by a tenacious forechecking effort and found themselves hemmed in their own end for much of the frame.
The pressure caused some uncharacteristic mistakes from the Rangers’ blue line, including Dan Girardi's unsightly gaffe to turn the puck over at the goal line. Girardi’s rare giveaway almost gifted New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus with a lay-up, but he was bailed out by a save from Lundqvist.
“They had a lot of pressure on us. They weren’t given us much time to make plays and we ended up icing it a bunch,” said alternate captain Marc Staal. “Hank made some key saves for us, so we got out of it without getting hurt.”
Then came Girardi’s redemption shot in the third, when he gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a deep slapshot that beat Martin Brodeur less than a minute into play. Rookie Chris Kreider set up the pivotal marker, earning the primary assist on the play in his second multi-point performance of the playoffs.
“I saw (Kreider) coming up the wall there and I was delaying to see what he was going to do,” said Girardi, who was wearing the Rangers MVP Broadway Hat after the game. “I saw no one go to the point and I kind of stepped into it and got it through.”
With Girardi’s game-winner, the Rangers have now received nine goals from defensemen throughout the playoffs.
“To get some offense (from) some of your best defensemen offensively, it’s important,” said coach John Tortorella. “And (Girardi) has made some really big plays. Not just getting on the scoreboard, but big plays offensively right on through the playoffs here.”