|For the second time in three games, Henrik Lundqvist stops every shot from the Devils. (AP)|
The New York Rangers' victory in Saturday's Game 3 was pretty much a carbon copy of their Game 1 triumph Monday.
It was scoreless through two periods. The Devils were completely carrying the play, swarming around the New York zone only to watch as Henrik Lundqvist did his thing in the crease. Just when you thought the Devils might finally be on the verge of breaking through, they suffered a couple of breakdowns early in the third period that lead to a pair of quick Rangers goals.
And that's the game.
After Dan Girardi scored the eventual game-winning goal (as he did in Game 1) early in the period, rookie forward Chris Kreider followed it up just 1:57 later by deflecting a shot past Martin Brodeur to give the Rangers all the offense they would need on their way to a 3-0 win, taking a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
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You can try to break it down and analyze it any way you want.
You can talk about the Rangers' grit, or their courage, or their ability and willingness to block shots. You can point to their commitment to defense, the coaching of John Tortorella or the leadership of Ryan Callahan.
It doesn't matter. None of it. At the end of the day it all comes down to one thing, and only one thing.
If he isn't playing at the level he's playing at right now, this thing is over.
For the third game in a row you can (and should) make the argument that the Devils were the better team overall, with the only difference being the way Lundqvist has outplayed Brodeur in net. If you had to point to only one reason why the Rangers now have the upper hand in the series after three games, you have to look no further than what Lundqvist has been able to do.
It's not that Brodeur has been terrible for the Devils. He just hasn't been on the same superhuman level as Lundqvist.
Through two periods Saturday, New York looked like a dead team skating. The Rangers were unable to generate any offense or slow down the Devils' attack. Lundqvist was facing a never-ending barrage of shots and attempted shots -- while the Rangers generated almost nothing of any consequence offensively -- and somehow managed to keep the game scoreless. It could very easily have been a multiple-goal deficit for New York after two periods.
If the Rangers were getting just "good" goaltending in this series instead of the great goaltending they are receiving from Lundqvist, it might already be a 3-0 lead in favor of the Devils. New Jersey has certainly played well enough to be in that position.
But goaltending is important too, and right now the Rangers have the superior player -- by far -- at the position.
And he's the only reason they have the upper hand in the series.