By Sarah Kwak, SI.com
Three days after Marc Staal's skate lost Game 3 for the Rangers, it was the rookie defenseman's stick that won Game 4 and put New York up 3-1 in their series with the Devils. With less than four minutes left in the game and the score knotted at 3-3, Staal took a shot from the point, a shot he "wasn't thinking about putting in the net from there." Still, the shot got through -- through the Devils' defense, through goalie Martin Brodeur --and put the Rangers one win away from the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In his heroic performance on Wednesday night, Staal was just the latest baby-faced Blueshirt to give New York a boost in this series. More than any other team this postseason (save for maybe the Canadiens and their young netminder Carey Price), the Rangers are getting some big help from their young ones. Ryan Callahan notched the winner in Game 1; Nigel Dawes wrestled the puck from New Jersey to score an empty-netter in that game as well; and center Brandon Dubinsky has two goals and two assists in the first four playoff games of his career.
"They've all been big, really big contributors," says Rangers coach Tom Renney. "I don't want to say I'm surprised; I sort of expected it. But I'm sure happy for them."
And what's not to be happy about? Combining for seven points between them, the four Ranger rookies have scored more than a third of New York's goals, including two game-winners -- three, if you count Staal's skate winning it for New Jersey on Sunday. These guys are not playing like rookies, not shooting like rookies (they combined for 11 of New York's 39 shots on Wednesday), and not logging rookie minutes (Staal has averaged 23:14 ice time per game). Truth be told, the only giveaway to their career status may be their pubescent playoff beards (except for Dawes, who seems to grow a 5 o'clock shadow at about noon).
"These guys aren't rookies by Christmastime," Renney says. "They've seen just about everybody in our conference by then. And we think we've groomed these people properly so that when they got here, it was legitimate... Coming out of the lockout we were completely dedicated to being younger, completely dedicated to putting together a lineup that [fans] could embrace for a long time."
- Bumping Brodeur is clearly New York's modus operandi for playing against one of the best goaltenders in the game. Seems to be working, as Brodeur has been tossed around the crease like a ragdoll by the Rangers. It's got to be taking quite a toll on a guy who's played 81 games this season. In Friday's Game 5, expect New Jersey to return the favor and invade Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist's territory a bit.
- The Rangers had 12 takeaways in Wednesday's game, though most seemed like Devils giveaways. Weak clears and turnovers in the neutral zone have killed New Jersey in this series. Said Devils coach Brent Sutter: "Every goal they got on us tonight, we gave it away."
- Staal's goal was the first he's scored at home all season. He had just two goals in the regular season -- one in Colorado and the other in New Jersey.
- The Devils switched up their lines a bit after Game 2, splitting the Mike Rupp - David Clarkson combo that was sent out to try and quiet Jaromir Jagr. How did the split work out? Not great. Jagr put up five shots in the series' first two games; he's had 12 since.
- A relatively quiet game for Sean Avery, who didn't score for the first time in the series. After instigating a rule "clarification" with his X-treme face-guarding of Brodeur on Sunday, Avery kept a lower profile. What does he think of all the hubbub over his stick-waving? See for yourself.