NEWARK, N.J. — In his latest playoff gem, Henrik Lundqvist had little time to do more than stop every breakaway or 2-on-1 attempt New Jersey shot his way. When he took a moment to breathe, Lundqvist had all the confidence his New York Rangers would bail him out with a goal or two.
“You know sooner or later it’s going to turn,” he said. “It’s going to turn in our favor.”
Unlike those dozens of Devils’ shots, his feeling was right on the mark.
Lundqvist had 36 saves, and Dan Girardi, Chris Kreider and Ryan Callahan scored third-period goals to lead New York to a 3-0 win over New Jersey in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.
Girardi and Kreider scored goals only 1:57 seconds apart early in the third to seize the momentum in a packed building with fans of both teams at a fever pitch, and give New York a 2-1 series lead. Indeed it was a quick span the Devils might long regret, especially after they dominated long stretches of Game 3.
“We played a real good hockey game,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “We lost. We gotta find a way to score a goal.”
The Rangers did, and they did so in a stretch that would compare to some of coach John Tortorella’s short and not-so-sweet press conferences. But Tortorella abandoned his normally terse responses to praise his goalie after the win.
“He’s a great competitor,” Tortorella said, “as far as his preparation and as far as what he does for this hockey club.”
Lundqvist was busy from the opening faceoff en route to his second shutout of the series and third in the postseason.
Callahan iced it with an empty-netter late in third.
Game 4 is Monday in New Jersey.
Not even playing on home ice, where they had won four in a row, was enough to help New Jersey. The Rangers have won every Game 1, lost each Game 2, and rebounded to win Game 3 in every round this postseason. Each preceding series, of course, saw them win the all-important last one: Game 7.
Kreider, a rookie called up during Round 1 vs. Ottawa, has scored in every game of this series.
“I’d trade that for three wins,” Kreider said. “I’m worried about the next one.”
Lundqvist was fantastic as he showed again why he led the Rangers to an Eastern Conference-high 109 points. He stoned Adam Henrique on a nice backhander late in the second period to keep it scoreless entering the third, setting the stage for New York’s late magic.
He also toyed with Ilya Kovalchuk all game and stopped him on a nice breakaway in the second. Kovalchuk, who scored in Game 2, couldn’t get untracked and neither could the rest of the Devils.
Especially not with the way Lundqvist shined in net.
“I was a little lucky today, a couple times where I made the first move I still ended up making the save,” he said. “That’s not going to happen all the time. So you need some luck sometimes. I always say you earn your luck by working hard.
“But today was a good day.”
The Rangers opened the third ready to go against Martin Brodeur and found a way to give Lundqvist a needed cushion.
With New Jersey’s Bryce Salvador in the penalty box, Girardi pushed a slow wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove side, off a faceoff win by Brad Richards. Brodeur could have easily stopped the point-blank shot, especially with no traffic in front of the net.
“I thought the biggest play there was the faceoff win,” Tortorella said of Richards’ play. “We struggled a little bit there on our power play.”
Ryan McDonagh then wristed a shot along the ice toward Brodeur that got through to the crease, eventually being deflected by Kreider and around a prone Brodeur. New Jersey’s Marek Zidlicky was out of position at the faceoff circle, when Kreider sneaked in behind him and poked it in.
“I was just trying to get to the net,” he said. “It was a great shot and found my stick.”
The Devils kept up the pressure the rest of the way, but got nowhere with an ineffective 0 for 5 power play. And as they skated off dejectedly toward their locker room, they could only look back and wonder how they came up empty with so many shots on Lundqvist.
“It’s not like we didn’t create anything,” New Jersey’s Patrik Elias said. “They didn’t block everything, they didn’t outbattle us. It was a battle from both teams – hard.”
New Jersey spent most of the game sticking it to the Rangers all over the ice. The Devils dominated and outshot the Rangers, 26-14, through the first two periods.
In the second period, New York’s Brandon Prust threw a hard right elbow into the back of Anton Volchenkov’s head that knocked the defenseman down in a heap. No penalty was called and the crowd howled in protest. DeBoer was furious at the non-call and was yelling on the bench as he looked up at the replay overhead. Volchenkov eventually got to his feet and later returned to the ice.
“Headhunting,” DeBoer said, stealing Tortorella’s tone for an answer or two. “Plain and simple.”
Lundqvist was at his best in the third, snaring Kovalchuk’s one-timer to turn away any attempt at a late Devils’ rally.
“He’s been the backbone of our team for a long time now,” Girardi said. “He’s making huge saves.”
The Devils pulled Brodeur with 2:33 left and that backfired only 10 seconds later when Callahan knocked in an easy look that bounced off the back boards. The three-goal cushion allowed the Rangers fans in attendance to boast a bit as their rivals struggled. “Let’s go Ran-gers” chants were prevalent, as were derogatory “Mar-ty” chants toward the Devils’ veteran netminder.
Brodeur shrugged off the chants.
“It’s momentum off the way we play that dictates how our crowd is going to be in our building, because there are a lot of Rangers fans coming over,” Brodeur said. “They are the ones, I guess, with the money and they are sitting right beside us, too.
“It’s not new for us.”
Losing at home, though, is. The Devils, after all, had won four straight postseason games at The Rock.
That streak is history. Thanks to the man the Rangers call “Hank.”