Clarkson’s Flukey Goal Helps Devils Rally Past Rangers

Devils 4                        Rangers 3            shootout

Playing against the best team in the Eastern Conference and trailing by a goal with under a minute to go in the game Tuesday night, the New Jersey Devils needed some puck-luck and found it when Andy Greene’s dump-in hit a partition in the Prudential Center glass and kicked out to a wide-open David Clarkson in the slot. He quickly snapped a shot past Martin Biron and tied the game against the New York Rangers 3-3 with 47.6 seconds left in the third period.”As a team we kept battling back, we were down and we battled back,” said Clarkson, “it’s good to see at this time of the season. For our first game back after the All-Star break, this was a good win.”

After a scoreless overtime, the Devils prevailed in the shootout as Ilya Kovalchuk scored the lone goal and Martin Brodeur stopped all three of New York’s shooters to even up the season series between the Hudson River Rivals (1-1).

The Rangers opened the scoring with less than a minute to play in the opening period when defenseman Anton Stralman collected a loose rebound and had an easy tap-in goal at the side of Brodeur’s net. Marian Gaborik (the All-Star Game MVP) fired the original shot that hit Devils’ blueliner Anton Volchenkov and then caromed off of Brodeur’s pad to a wide-open Stralman.

The Devils captain, Zach Parise, finally got his team on the board after his hard work and perseverance led to his 16th goal of the season 8:20 into the second period. On the scoring play Parise’s original shot was rebuffed by Biron but he slapped at the rebound — propelling the puck over Biron’s shoulder and under the crossbar. “I was trying to get the shot through and the rebound came right back to me,” he explained. “I didn’t know that it went in right away, it went in and came out pretty quickly. I wasn’t sure and then I heard the whistle and the crowd roared, so (laughs) I was pretty happy to get one.”

With the score still 1-1, Brian Boyle gave the Rangers a one-goal lead again when he cut across the slot with the puck on his stick and fired a high shot into the net past a Brodeur who had spun on his back with his legs up in the air. New York was able to maintain the 2-1 lead until Kovalchuk scored a power play goal at 15:25, but before the arena’s PA announcer could announce the goal the Rangers netted their third lead of the night 26 seconds later when Michael Del Zotto beat Brodeur with a shot that went right-to-left as the goalie slid left-to-right; Gaborik made a brilliant cross-ice backhand pass through three defenders on the scoring play.

That set up Clarkson to be the late-game hero, finding himself in the right place at the right time and hoping that he wouldn’t mess up the golden opportunity. “It was just one of those lucky bounces,” said a smiling Clarkson to reporters in the locker room after the game. “It kind of just landed right on my stick; I got a little nervous because I was like ‘How did this just happen?’ We played hard tonight, and Marty was unbelievable for us.”

Greene was happy to explain his part in the scoring play, returning to action after missing 22 games with a non-displaced toe fracture. “I was just trying to put it up and around the glass, but it’s not that easy to hit the right partition and pop out,” he said. When I asked if that’s what the coaching staff diagrammed he laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s like that Buffalo Wild Wings commercial with the field goal at the end of a game and the guy hits the sprinkler button.”

Parise was pleased with the team’s effort after a three game win-less skid and six days off, “We played hard, we played well; that’s a hard-working team and we matched them for the whole game and that’s how you have to beat them.”

In the shootout for New Jersey Kovalchuk went first and scored on a twisted wrist shot before Biron turned aside Parise and Patrik Elias’ attempts. Brodeur forced Derek Stepan’s shot wide of the goal and made a nice glove save on Brad Richards, setting up a showdown with Gaborik to determine if the game would continue or end. “He started so slow, I just kind of waited for him to do anything,” said Brodeur. “He started to go fast, I kind of went fast also (laughs); I tried to mimic him a little bit and it worked out — I was able to make a save on him.”

After dropping their three previous home games, this was a much-needed win for a team that will be battling for a playoff spot during the season’s final 33 games.

Game Notes: Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi led all skaters in ice-time with 33:46 and co-led his team in shots on goal with four (Boyle). Kovalchuk led the Devils in ice-time, 27:05, and led all players with five shots on goal. New Jersey defenseman Adam Larsson led all players with four blocked shots and Volchenkov led all players with five hits. New Jersey (27-19-3) is off until Thursday when they host Montreal (19-22-9) and New York (31-12-5) is back on the ice Wednesday night when they play in Buffalo (21-24-5).

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — David Clarkson (NJ) —
goal (17), assist (7)
#2 — Marian Gaborik (NYR) — 2 assists (16)
#3 — Carl Hagelin (NYR) –– 2 assists (10)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Three More Weeks Until Hockey is Back…

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote, so I will try to cover a variety of topics here:

Congrats to the Boston Bruins who won the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 @ Vancouver. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were off the charts in that series, and Tim Thomas’ performance was legendary. That Claude Julien guy that coaches the B’s is pretty good, it’d be nice if the Devils had a coach like that…

The Atlanta Thrashers (and their fugly uniforms) are gone and the Winnipeg Jets are back! It’s a shame they won’t be wearing the old uniforms, but a new beginning does deserve a new look and I think I like what I saw from the logo and the uniform scheme.

My sincere and deepest condolences to the families of all of the hockey players that passed away this summer. I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened in Russia with the plane crash and I still cannot erase the images of Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Vasyunov’s faces from my mind; hopefully they didn’t suffer. They will all be missed and never, ever forgotten.

So the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Ilya Bryzgalov to play goal this season, making him the 500th goalie they have employed since Martin Brodeur became a New Jersey Devil and the 1,000th netminder since they last won the Cup in 1975. They also traded their two best players — Jeff Carter and Mike Richards — in separate deals that did not bring back equal value and signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Good luck with that.

It seems certain that Sidney Crosby won’t be ready for the start of the season, but could suit up at some point in 2011-12. Concussions are a delicate issue and Crosby’s career could be derailed like Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya before him. Intentional head shots must be eliminated from the game, but certain players (ahem Criesby…) are also responsible for protecting themselves and need to stop admiring their passes.

Don’t be surprised if the New York Islanders (that’s right, I said it) make the playoffs this season. IF they can stay healthy! John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson seem primed to have big seasons and hopefully Evgeni Nabokov can add some stability to what has been a blue cross and blue shield crease the last few seasons.

The Rangers added the biggest fish in the free-agent pool in Brad Richards, but have we not learned anything over the past six seasons — the team that signs the top free agent never wins the Cup. They did make one right move this summer — naming Ryan Callahan their new captain.

The Devils had a semi-quiet offseason after selecting Adam Larsson with the 4th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. They were able to rid themselves of Colin White and Brian Rolston’s ridiculous contracts, and they were able to re-sign Andy Greene and Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg. Both Bryce Salvador and Zach Parise have been cleared to start the season, but Travis Zajac may not be back until December after tearing his achilles tendon during an off-ice workout; Zajac’s team record consecutive games streak will end at 401. Cam Janssen is back with NJ and Petr Sykora could be too — he will be in training camp on a tryout basis. The new coach is Peter DeBoer who was fired from the Florida Panthers, the same DeBoer who helped the Cats reach 94 points a few years back — a remarkable feat in itself with the roster he was given. I predict Mattias Tedenby will net at least 20 goals this season and Jacob Josefson will have 30 assists as they help lead the Devs back to the playoffs after last season’s hiccup.

Boston begins defense of it’s Championship on opening night (October 6); the Rangers open in Sweden against the LA Kings the following day (October 7); the Islanders (vs. Florida) and Devils (vs. Philly) both begin their seasons on Saturday October 8; and the new Winnipeg/old Atlanta team makes it’s debut on Sunday October 9 vs. Montreal.

Devils-Stars line combos/postgame quotes

Here are the line combinations from Friday night:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk
Elias-Arnott-Langenbrunner
Rolston-Zubrus-Clarkson
Leblond-Pelley

Volchenkov-Fraser
Tallinder-Greene
White-Taormina
Urbom

Dallas:
Neal-B.Richards-Eriksson
Morrow-Ribiero-Burish
Benn-Wandell-Ott
Peterson-Sutherby-Segal

Grossman-Robidas
Daley-Fistric
Niskanen-Skrastins

And here are the postgame quotes I was able to record:

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the game…

“It’s been six days since we played a hockey game so, I think with the environment, we were really excited to get (the season) started; things like that happen once in a while. It’s behind us now; I thought we played well in different parts of the ice. Defensively I thought we did a good job, just little turnovers here and there that were not really necessary and they capitalized on it.”

Was it a good shot that Loui Eriksson scored on the winner?

“Yeah, it was a tough shot, a tough play for everybody. It’s pretty rare that we practice that — a 2-on-1 from there zone — the guy had lots of time. I think (Brad) Richards was well covered and it became almost like a breakaway; he was able to pick a corner.”

Was the game a little more wide open then you would have liked or is that the way this team is going to play?

“I think it’s going to be what it’s going to be. It felt wide open because of the excitement of the game, but I think guys didn’t have much room to make plays, especially in our zone.”

The crowd was loud and into it tonight…

“Yeah it was fun, it was disappointing to not get a win for them because they supported us real well. It was playoff hockey out there, it’s the first game, there’s a lot of excitement building up for the opener and it was fun to be a part of it.”

It seemed like the turning point was when (Ilya) Kovalchuk almost made it 3-0 and hit the post and then they came down and scored shortly after…

“That’s hockey; we have to capitalize — he made a great shot, it just didn’t go in. Same thing the way Richards beat me clean and hit the post there in the third. It was the first game. I think we have to be somewhat pleased with some of the things we did, but we just have to clean it up a bit.”

Big challenge coming up tomorrow night going to Washington?

“Yeah it’s always a challenge to go there. They’re a good offensive team so we’ll have to play well defensively and expose what their weakness is. I don’t know what changes they made, I don’t know what kind of team they have (yet), I haven’t really looked. I’ll look tomorrow at what they have and try to expose what they need to.”

Washington tomorrow, Pittsburgh on Monday so things don’t get easier…

“Hopefully it will get easier later (laughs), that’s the way it goes usually. But it’s pretty rare that we start (the season) with so many games, like six games in ten days. Usually we trail teams by three games after the first week in games played, so this will be a little different look; we just have to get going quicker.”

Will you be starting tomorrow?

“I’ll be on the ice somehow.”

Zach Parise:

On your goal did the puck bounce a little bit on you?

“No, I was originally going to try and pass it back to Kovy, I kind of picked my head up and saw that (Kari) Lehtonen was down and out so I had some net to shoot at.”

How was Dallas different after they called their timeout?

“I don’t think they really did anything differently, I think we kind of did a lot of things to ourselves by turning pucks over.”

Travis Zajac:

Obviously a disappointing result, but how do you feel you guys played out there tonight?

“I think we had some good spurts during the game. During the first and third I thought we played well, in the second period was when we turned the puck over a little too much and gave them some life; that’s where they got some scoring chances and goals from. We just have to be better in that aspect of the game — and we will be. It’s the first game, we did some good things and hopefully we can continue to build.”

Can you talk about the play where you scored on?

“We came up the ice on a 3-on-2 and Kovy made a good pass to me in the middle. I kind of fanned on the shot or it got tipped or something and I got lucky and the puck got through the goalie.”

It was kind of a soft shot, was that your changeup?

“Yeah, exactly a little changeup. We’ll get better as the games go on here.”

How was John MacLean behind the bench in his first NHL regular season game as a head coach?

“He was good, he was vocal, he was encouraging us positively the entire game. That’s what you expect from a coach. It was his first game and I’m sure he was excited to be there. He’s a good fit for us.”

I heard your former teammate Bobby Holik say on the radio the other day that you will be one of the most improved players in the league this year, your response?

“(laughs) I guess I owe him a diet coke or something. I’ve been working on my game and trying to get better; I’m playing on a line with two great players so I’m sure they’ll make me look good a lot of the time.”

 

Eriksson & Stars Spoil Opener, Beat Devils in OT

Dallas 4          Devils 3   — overtime

The New Jersey Devils lost their season and home opener on Friday night, falling 4-3 in overtime to the Dallas Stars. Loui Eriksson was the hero for Dallas (who rallied from a two-goal deficit) with two goals – including the game-winner in overtime that sent the sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center home unhappy. “It was fun game to play in,” said Martin Brodeur who made 24 saves in defeat. “It was disappointing to not get a win for the fans because they supported us real well. It was playoff hockey out there, it’s the first game, there’s a lot of excitement building up for the opener and it was fun to be a part of it.” The Devils led 2-0 just 7:13 into the match, but Stars coach Marc Crawford used his timeout to settle his team down and the move paid off.

New Jersey’s new top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise started the new season with a bang scoring the first two goals of what is expected to be a successful campaign for the trio. Zajac and the 100-million dollar man (Kovalchuk) worked a nifty give-and-go before Zajac’s soft shot slid under Stars’ netminder Kari Lehtonen’s pads for a 1-0 Devils lead 2:45 into the first period. “We came up the ice on a 3-on-2 and Kovy made a good pass to me in the middle,” explained Zajac. “I kind of fanned on the shot or it got tipped or something and I got lucky and the puck got through the goalie.”

Minutes later when Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric stumbled in the neutral zone, Kovalchuk and Parise had a 2-on-1 and quickly extended the lead to 2-0. On the scoring play, Parise patiently held the puck on his stick as Trevor Daley dove to the ice to take away the passing lane. But the defenseman’s momentum carried him into the crease, essentially negating Lehtonen and allowing Parise to easily score with a wrist shot into the gaping net. “I was originally going to try and pass it back to Kovy,” said Parise, “I kind of picked my head up and saw that Lehtonen was down and out so I had some net to shoot at.”

Just over four minutes after Parise’s tally, Dallas’ captain Brenden Morrow gave his team some life when he rifled a one-timer past Brodeur after a nice pass from Mike Ribeiro. After one period both teams had fired eleven shots on goal.

Eriksson tied the game 3:02 into the second period, pouncing on a loose puck at the edge of the crease and flipping it over Brodeur’s outstretched arms along the ice. The Stars controlled most of the play during the period but fell behind when the Devils converted on what would turn out to be their only power play of the night. Jason Arnott, playing his first game in a Devils uniform since 2002, blasted a long slap shot past Lehtonen’s stick side at 10:22, to give New Jersey a 3-2 lead.

That lead was short-lived as the Stars tied the game again 1:16 later when Brad Richards flicked a shot past Brodeur for his 31st point (5g-26a) in 32 career games against the Devils, converting a pass from James Neal who was behind the cage. Dallas out-shot New Jersey 12-5 in the period. “I thought we played well in different parts of the ice,” said Brodeur. “Defensively I thought we did a good job, just little turnovers here and there that were not really necessary and they capitalized on it.”

Neither team budged in what was a fast-paced, exciting third period – featuring almost ten consecutive minutes of uninterrupted hockey; very reminiscent of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final overtimes that the two franchises collided in that spring. Despite out-shooting the Stars 13-4, the Devils were unable to muster up any more offense as the game moved into overtime.

It took only 1:36 to end the game as Eriksson scored unassisted on a 2-on-1, snapping an accurate wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove hand. “It was a tough shot, a tough play for everybody. It’s pretty rare that we practice that — a 2-on-1 from their zone — the guy had lots of time,” Brodeur said. “I think Richards was well covered and it became almost like a breakaway; he was able to pick a corner.”

The Devils did gain a point in the standings, which means the performance wasn’t a total waste. “I thought we competed really hard,” coach John MacLean said afterwards. “As I said to the guys before the game, it’s the little things that kind of make the difference and unfortunately we paid. But you know what? The work ethic was there. We had some chances, but also little mistakes were made. They’re all correctable. We’ll just keep plugging.”

Up next for New Jersey is a game in DC Saturday night against the Washington Ovechkins and then a late afternoon tilt with the Pittsburgh Crosbys on Monday at the Rock. “Hopefully it will get easier later,” Brodeur said with a chuckle. “That’s the way it goes usually. But it’s pretty rare that we start (the season) with so many games, like six games in ten days. Usually we trail teams by three games after the first week in games played, so this will be a little different look; we just have to get going quicker.”

Game Notes: With New Jersey needing to make a move by the end of the month to get under the NHL salary cap, the proverbial sharks are circling in the water as there were 12 teams represented with scouts at the game on Friday night: NY Islanders, Philadelphia, Detroit, Florida, Calgary, Nashville, Chicago, Phoenix, Colorado, Anaheim, Vancouver & Ottawa. For the Devils defensemen Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina made their NHL debuts. Zajac has eight points (4g-4a) in seven career games versus Dallas; Arnott played in his 1,100th NHL game. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:27 and Stephane Robidas led the Stars with 22:42. Arnott and Benn led all players with five shots on goal each. The Stars won the face-off battle by a 24-15 margin. This game was the first time that Dallas started a season without anyone from their 1999 Stanley Cup winning team on their active 23-man roster.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Loui Eriksson (Dall) – 2 goals, gw (2)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – goal (1), assist (1)

#3 – Brad Richards (Dall) – goal (1), assist (1)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.