NHL Playoffs: Sharp New Jersey Defense Ties Series

The defenses were sharp last night in Madison Square Garden as the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers hooked up for Game 2 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals. But the Devils were the sharper of the two and they got the big goal when then they needed it to tie up the series at a game apiece with a 3-2 win last night.

New Jersey scored early on the power play, with its key players got together, Zach Parise feeding Ilya Kovalchuk for the early lead. Combined with a tough overall defense that limited New York to five shots in the opening period, the Devils took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The Rangers came out with a strong second period. They got 12 shots and with a goal early in the period and again about halfway through, they took a 2-1 lead, but before it was over, the Devils had snuck in the tying goal. Then early in the third period, at about the 17-minute mark, New Jersey center Adam Henrique missed a shot off the iron, but David Clarkson was in position for the putback and the Devil defense made the lead stand up.

Each team was fairly equal in shots—New Jersey leading 27-25 and each did the job in keeping the other team’s stars off the puck. After the early goal, Kovalchuk and Parise were quiet. But New York’s key players were even more silent, with Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan combining for only three shots. The potential vulnerability of Devil goaltender Martin Brodeur if he’s overexposed has been a regular theme of TheSportsNotebook’s playoff coverage, as has the quality of their team defense. The latter did the job last night, keeping New York’s shot totals to a moderate level and ensuring the best players weren’t the ones doing the shooting.

The Western Conference Finals resume tonight in Los Angeles, with the Kings having won the first two games in Phoenix and looking to put a stranglehold on the Coyotes. Honestly, right now I’m just looking for a reason to think the ‘Yotes can win a game. We’ve clearly hit a limit in how far goalie Mike Smith can personally carry the team and the whole formula of Smith getting more saves in a night than Mariano Rivera used to get in a season and covering for an offense that does nothing and a defense that doesn’t protect, has clearly run its course. Yes, Smith might win a single game for Phoenix. But tonight I not only want to see them win—trailing 2-0 that’s obviously a necessity—but I want to see them do it in a way that makes me think they can still make a series of this. I doubt we’ll see the former and convinced we won’t see the latter.