Ryan Carter celebrates Devils teammate Stephen Gionta after Carter's third period goal that would hold up as the winner. The Rangers' Brad Richards, not surprisingly, wasn't as thrilled. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The NHL Playoff Recap gives you THN's take of what happened in each game of the night and what the consequences will be for the rest of the series.
We also provide our Three Stars of the night, which will be tabulated after each round. First Star is three points, Second Star is two points and Third Star is one point. Be sure to vote on who you think the first star was as well.
Of course there's the other side of the coin: The Black Hole is a piece of the lineup that just couldn't get it going on a given night and contributed to a difficult evening for the team.
RANGERS/DEVILS, GAME 5: DEVILS 5, RANGERS 3 (DEVILS LEAD SERIES 3-2)
THN’s Take: The New Jersey Devils made Game 5 of their Eastern Conference final matchup against the New York Rangers look easy. For the first 10 minutes or so, that is.
The remaining 50 minutes weren’t nearly so smooth for the visiting team at Madison Square Garden, but the Devils’ resilience – and a gutsy performance from a Devil named Gionta, although not the guy most people think of when they associate that name with the franchise – led them to a 5-3 win and a crucial 3-2 series advantage.
New Jersey stormed out of the gate, jumping out to a 3-0 lead by the 9:49 mark. However, a weak goal allowed by Devils veteran Martin Brodeur some five minutes later kept New York in it and the second period was all Rangers: the Blueshirts cut the lead to one just 32 seconds into the frame and outshot the Devils 11-5. Just 17 seconds into the third, Brodeur allowed another bad goal during a puckhandling mishap that ended with Marian Gaborik scoring at a bad angle and it seemed the visitors were on the verge of full collapse.
But that’s the funny thing about this New Jersey team: they can look bad for stretches, but they almost always atone for poor play with a long period of smart, aggressive play. They stepped up collectively – nearly matching the Rangers’ 17 blocked shots with 16 of their own – and their role players stepped up yet again. The key this time was career American Leaguer Stephen Gionta (yes, brother of Devils legend Brian Gionta), who scored the opening goal of the game and threaded a beautiful pass to teammate Ryan Carter for the game-winner with less than five minutes left in regulation.
The Rangers, however, are not out of this series, which shifts back to New Jersey for Game 6 Friday. Led by captain Ryan Callahan, the Blueshirts showed they’re not to be counted out by coming back from a relatively massive deficit. Unfortunately for them, they’ve now got to win two straight against a Devils team that hasn’t lost two in a row since Games 2 and 3 against Florida in Round 1.
1. Stephen Gionta – The 28-year-old played just one regular-season game for the Devils and has only 13 total NHL career games, but for this night, at least, he was the Gionta leading New Jersey to a big win. He played only 9:49, but his goal and two points were huge at a time it seems star winger Ilya Kovalchuk isn’t himself again.
2. Ryan Callahan – New York’s heart-and-soul was a one-man wrecking ball, amassing a game-best six hits while scoring the Rangers’ second goal. If each of his teammates had Callahan’s heart, this series would be over already.
3. Marek Zidlicky – The veteran blueliner played 23:13 – only fellow D-man Bryce Salvador played more (23:33) for New Jersey – while chipping in an assist, four hits and two blocked shots. Like many of his teammates, Zidlicky is unspectacular, but able to perform well under pressure.
Who do you think was the first star?
The Black Hole: Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto is still only 21 years old, but, given how important he is to the team’s success, his struggles are hurting the Blueshirts’ chances of winning this series. Del Zotto was held pointless in Game 5 and posted a game-worst minus-three. He has just two assists and is a combined minus-five in his past five games, something that needs to improve immediately.