Devils and Rangers will both be desperate for a win Monday
For the most part, the Devils have found a way to raise their game against the rival Rangers all season and Monday night’s game at Madison Square Garden comes at time when both teams are looking to rebound.
The Devils are coming off a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday in which they were outshot 44-14. They have scored only two goals in their last three games and won only one of them.
By the time today is over, a Rangers’ conference lead that was 10 points just two weeks ago could be completely gone (if Pittsburgh defeats Philadelphia this afternoon). The Blueshirts have lost five of their last seven, including a 4-1 loss to the Devils on March 6.
So, both teams will be desperate for a win Monday in a rivalry that usually doesn’t need any extra motivation to produce passionate play.
“It’s always a big game, a rivalry game, a divisional game,” Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk said. “So, it will be a very important game for both teams. They’re only two points ahead now of Pittsburgh, so we want to play well and bounce back from (Saturday’s) game for sure.”
“Every time we play those guys, it’s a motivated game with high intensity and it’s the same from their side,” center Patrik Elias said. “I think it’s because we’re playing against each other so many times and we know where they’re at in the standings and we’re trying to still buckle down on our game. It should be an exciting game tomorrow.”
Monday’s game will be the fifth between the teams since the all-star break. The Devils went 3-1-0 in the first four and lead the season series six points (3-2-0) to five (2-2-1).
After the Devils’ 4-1 win on March 6 at Prudential Center, Rangers center Brian Boyle said, “They hated us tonight. They wanted to kill us and we need to match that.”
Both teams will be looking to play with that hatred Monday.
“It’s a rivalry and there’s an intensity to that series because of the history of the two teams and what they’ve been through,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “I think there’s a genuine dislike there and that all adds to the environment.”
That’s why DeBoer believes this meeting with the Rangers comes at a good time for his team after it was embarrassed at times during Saturday’s loss to the Penguins. These are the type of games he often says don’t require motivational speeches.
“You want to jump right back in,” DeBoer said. “They don’t give you any choice but to compete and the environment, I think, will be a welcome emotional boost for us to be ready to play.”
The Devils thought they were ready to play Saturday, but looked overmatched against a Penguins team that has won 11 consecutive games. They had numerous breakdowns that lead to odd-man rushes and open shots for a team that has plenty of skill to capitalize on them.
“I don’t think we played a good game as a team,” Kovalchuk said. “I don’t know what was the reason, but it was, I think, one of our worst games we played in a long time and they were really good. In saying that, we still had a chance. We were tied 1-1 halfway through the game and a couple of bad bounces and turnovers and that was a big difference.”
The Penguins repeatedly burned the Devils with long stretch passes that created chances off the rush.
“They have good (defensemen),” Elias said. “They’re very quick on their decisions and then they expose you when you’re not ready. They did that quite a bit. They moved the puck up really well. They had the D jumping in every time.”
“There were a lot of things we didn’t do well,” DeBoer said. “The bottom line is you’re going to have nights like that during the season and in the playoffs and you have to find a way to hang around. Our goaltender was great. He was giving us a chance and you can’t force things against a good team when things aren’t going right. I think that’s the mistake we made and they made us pay for it. So, hopefully, we play a little smarter the next time we get in that situation.”
The next two days will be big for the Devils. After playing the Rangers Monday, they visit Ottawa on Tuesday. The Devils are in sixth-place in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the seventh-place Senators.
The Senators are only one point behind Boston, however, for the Northeast Division lead, so Tuesday’s game also could be a first-round playoff preview.
“Against the Rangers, everything is already built up, so I think it’s good,” Dainius Zubrus said. “It was a big game that we lost (Saturday), but now we have two huge games in front of us – two in two nights. Really, we’re not happy about ourselves, but we have to move on. We have to come in tomorrow to the rink and be better in every area. It’s not one where they were better in the rush or better in this, better in that. It was just we weren’t that good in too many areas.”
DeBoer said Martin Brodeur will start in net.