No Mark Messier to Contend With, Can the New Jersey Devils Hang On?

By Steve Palumbo

The New Jersey Devils are one win away from making a return trip the the Stanley Cup Finals after defeating the New York Rangers 5-3 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

It was far from pretty,  but a win is a win. The Devils jumped out to a notoriously bad 3-0 lead early in the first period and then teased the Rangers for the next 35 minutes with uncharacteristically bad play.

Unlike the previous four games of the series, New York controlled most of the puck possession for long stretches of time. They out shot the Devils 28-17 for the game. Thankfully Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist forgot to eat his Wheaties in the morning and let in as many soft goals in one game as he may have given up all playoffs.

Martin Brodeur was not much better. He let in two very questionable goals, especially the game tying goal that he himself propelled into the net after inadvertently getting his skate blade stuck on top of the puck.

At that point it appeared the Devils were headed for another three-goal collapse reminiscent of game 3 during their first-round series with the Florida Panthers. New Jersey stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the first 10-minutes of the first period before eventually succumbing to Florida’s relentless rally, 4-3.

”It was a mistake,” Brodeur said of Marian Gaborik’s tying goal. ”I’m pretty happy that the boys bounced back and made this a win for us. It would have been tough and people would have blamed that mishandle.”

Although the game was eventually knotted up at 3-3, the back-breaking goal for Lundqvist had to be Travis Zajac’s wrister at 9:49 of the first period.

The Rangers were starting to push back after falling behind 2-0 on goals by Stephen Gionta and Patrik Elias. Zajac’s took a pass from Zach Parise and skated into the New York zone before  firing a shot that pulled Lundqvist slightly out of position. The puck slipped passed the netminder on the far side and in the net.

The goal was important because the Rangers had been 0-6 this postseason when giving up three or more goals in a game. Thanks to a Ryan Carter goal with less than five-minutes left in the third period New York’s record fell to 0-7.

Carter had only four goals and four assists in 72 regular-season games split between Florida and New Jersey. He already has two big goals in the East finals.

The Devils fourth line stood out once again as difference makers in this game. Gionta finished with a goal and a helper, Steve Bernier had an assist and Carter nabbed the game-winning goal.

New Jersey has a chance to close out the series on Friday at the Rock. The talk of what happened in 1994 has already begun. If you recall the Devils took a 3-2 series lead back the the Brendan Byrne Arena before losing games six and seven and of course the series.

The biggest difference then? Mark Messier. The Rangers captain made good on a game six guarantee by delivering a hat trick against Brodeur and the Devils and the rest as they say is history.

Do the Rangers have a Messier in the locker room in 2012? Can the Devils close the series out at home or is history doomed to repeat itself?

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