By Sarah Kwak, SI.com
The thing about momentum is that if you take away external forces, it's not going to change. The thing about a hockey rink, though, is that it is no closed system. Ask the Rangers, and they'll tell you New Jersey was certainly a force, but not one they couldn't overpower, as New York knocked the Devils out of the playoffs with a 5-3 win in a game that had more momentum shifts than the Democratic primaries.
"I was just waiting for them to quit," New York winger Jaromir Jagr said after Game 4 Wednesday night. "But they just kept coming back." Things were no different Friday, when the Devils fought back from a 4-1 deficit to pull within one goal of keeping the series alive. But the momentum the Rangers created early in the game proved to be too substantial for New Jersey to overcome, though they tried.
New Jersey came out checking and controlled the game for 4:40, when Devils center Travis Zajac swung behind the Rangers net with the puck and found a charging Brian Gionta, who scored his first goal of the series. The horns sounded; the celebration music roared; the Prudential Center (well, the half in Devils' red) rocked... That is, until New York's Michal Rozsival tied it up 18 seconds later. And just like that, the pendulum swung -- or rather, whipped -- over to the Rangers' side.
"We got the momentum, and they did a great job all series taking it away,” New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. Consider this: Through the five games of this PATH series (that's 5 hours and change of playing time), New Jersey held a lead for only about 15 minutes. Rozsival's goal was a turning point, said Devils coach Brent Sutter, and from there, the Rangers went on to score three more unanswered.
Unanswered.. that is, until a seemingly innocuous dump by Jersey blueliner Bryce Salvador ricocheted off of Ranger center Brandon Dubinsky and bounced through goalie Henrik Lundqvist. All of a sudden, it was a two-goal game, and that no-quit attitude that New Jersey's displayed throughout the series (though, to little avail) powered them back. "[After Salvador's goal], they changed," Lundqvist said. Patrik Elias scored about five minutes later on a 5-on-3 power play to pull the Devils to within one.
But the pendulum of momentum stuck firmly with New York after Lundqvist stopped a penalty shot awarded to Devils forward John Madden in the third period. Lundqvist, a shootout specialist ("That's his bread and butter," Rangers coach Tom Renney said), caught the back-handed shot in his pads, and with it brought New Jersey's hopes to a halt. That would be the push the Rangers netminder would need to power him through the rest of the period, the rest of the game, the rest of the series. It may even carry him forward to the second round, when the Rangers will likely face either Pittsburgh or Montreal. But maybe he just needs the momentum to slow down for a bit. When asked which he would prefer, having a few days off or playing a second-round game right away, Lundqvist replied, "The break. I'll take the break."
But he and New York should be careful not to let the momentum shift away. After all, it was the Devils' downfall this postseason; their inability to hold momentum for more time.
- After all the contact they had throughout this series, it was surprising Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and Rangers forward Sean Avery don't shake hands at the end of the game... Not. "Everyone talks about how much class I don't have," Avery said after the game sporting just a towel. "I guess [Brodeur] forgot to shake my hand... Of course, I was going to shake his hand." When asked about the lack of incident, Brodeur said without mentioning Avery by name: "I don't care how he feels about it."
- With just about a minute and a half of play left in the game, New York winger Ryan Callahan trapped the puck behind the Devils' goal, thereby killing a good :40 off the clock in a very veteran move by the young rookie.
- Four of the Rangers' first 10 shots on goal went in. Numbers like that wouldn't even impress in the PeeWees. What happened with Marty? Said Sutter: "I think, to some degree, as the series went on, he looked tired mentally."
- The series win for New York is "poetic justice to a degree," Renney said, recalling the 4-0 sweep the Rangers underwent against New Jersey in the first round two years ago. What's more, New York won the first three playoff games played in the Prudential Center in Newark. Inauspicious beginnings for the Devils' new "home." Said Lundqvist: "It was good winning three games on the road. Even though, it didn't feel like we were on the road." That's because they actually weren't. Since the visiting team was just a $4 train ticket away, Rangers fans infiltrated the arena in droves. Friday night's crowd seemed to have the more Blueshirts in the stands than Games 1 and 2.
- Now that the series is over, Ranger center/former Devil Scott Gomez spoke more freely about his former team -- and if you can believe it, more adoringly. "I'll always love New Jersey... I owe a lot to that organization," he said. "Whenever you win a Cup with a team, you're always going to remember those guys a little more."