NEW YORK, N.Y. - For the third straight series, the New York Rangers are basking in the glow of a 1-0 lead earned in the confines of "The World's Most Famous Arena."
The Eastern Conference's top-seeded team has failed in its first two attempts to double that edge at Madison Square Garden. Given a third shot against the New Jersey Devils, the Rangers are determined to make the most of home-ice advantage in Game 2 of the East finals on Wednesday night.
The Rangers held an optional practice Tuesday at their home rink, the site of a 3-0 win in Game 1 on Monday.
The teams slogged through two periods, and New York admittedly wasn't at its best coming off its second straight seven-game series. But the Rangers scored three times in the third period and rode their defence and the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist to victory.
"I don't know about escaped," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said of the win. "We've got to be better. We know that. We've got areas in the game that we need to improve on and we need to work on. We'll be ready for tomorrow."
While no one in the Rangers room could put a finger on what went wrong in Game 2 losses to Ottawa and Washington, New York voiced a determination to break the trend in which it alternated wins and losses through the first four games of the opening two rounds.
The Rangers went win-one-lose-one through all seven games against Washington. New Jersey won four straight against Philadelphia after losing the opener, to end that second-round series in five games. The Devils came back from a 3-2 deficit in the first round against Florida.
A two-game lead could do wonders for the Rangers, if for no other reason than to get a mental break from the constant pressure.
"We don't look to come out the same way we did in Game 1," forward Mike Rupp said. "We're fortunate, but we'll move forward and make sure we're better in Game 2. We need this game. It's a pivotal game, and both teams want it. The stakes are going to be higher and the game is going to be at an even higher pace.
"In the first two rounds, we exchanged wins and losses through the first four games. We're looking to get away from that. We want to win every game if we can. We obviously would like to string a few more together."
Not only haven't the Rangers taken a 2-0 lead, but they haven't held a two-game edge at any point of either series. The only time they have won two games in a row this post-season was when they rallied from a 3-2 hole and took Games 6 and 7 against Ottawa.
The Devils, who had five days off between the second and third rounds, would be happy to take a 1-1 tie home for Game 3 on Saturday.
"You're down one game, and they have home-ice advantage," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Tuesday. "We've been in this spot before. We know we can play better. Credit to them, they got the job done—found a way to get a win. Now it's on us to respond the right way."
The Devils will try to quickly figure out how to neutralize the Rangers' ability to block shots. New Jersey shot 21 pucks that made it through to the net, and they were all stopped by Lundqvist. As difficult as it is to face a premier goalie, New Jersey also had to deal with the frustration of having an additional 26 attempts turned aside before they got close to the net.
"We couldn't seem to get that first one past him," Devils captain Zach Parise said of Lundqvist. "The opportunities were there. Some great chances right in front of the net, some good shots from the slot, but he made big saves. Then they got one early in the third, and we couldn't rebound after that."
New Jersey frustrated clubs for years with its lock-down, trapping style that was backstopped by goalie Martin Brodeur. Now they are being tested with another maddening form of defence.
"We were blamed for the trap when we were successful at it," said the 40-year-old Brodeur, who has made 183 consecutive playoff starts for the Devils. "Whatever brings success is what you need to do. I know it's probably not the most exciting brand of hockey, but it's really effective.
"They got in people's heads by doing what they're doing, and they're tough to play against because of that."
The Rangers got a dose of it, too, against the Capitals—the only team in the playoffs that has blocked more shots than they have.
Dan Girardi, who broke the scoreless tie with a goal 53 seconds into the third period on Monday, and fellow defenceman Marc Staal both had a game-high five blocks in Game 1. Callahan, Ryan McDonagh—Girardi's defence partner—and another defenceman Anton Stralman all had three blocks each.
The Devils had 15 blocks of their own and allowed 28 shots, including one into an empty net with 1:27 left.
"You have to play defence to win," Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday. "Blocking shots is playing defence."
DeBoer also vented frustration Tuesday about calls he felt were missed by the officials. He felt that Brodeur was nudged by Rangers forward Derek Stepan as he provided a screen on Girardi's shot from the blue line that Brodeur said he never saw.
"Looked like a bump to me," DeBoer said.
He also took issue with a play in which he believed defenceman Michael Del Zotto closed his hand on the puck in the third period. But DeBoer knows the only way to win is for his club to penetrate the New York defence and then solve Lundqvist, who has allowed only 25 goals in 15 playoff games.
"He's a challenge. He's a very good goalie," DeBoer said. "But Ottawa found a way to score on him, so did Washington, so did we during the regular season. We're going to get goals. We've got to concentrate and do a better job on our execution around the net."
Notes: The Rangers recalled goalie Cam Talbot, defencemen Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath, and forwards J.T. Miller, Kris Newbury and Casey Wellman from the Connecticut Whale, who were eliminated from the American Hockey League playoffs on Friday. ... DeBoer said defenceman Henrik Tallinder, out since early January because of a blood clot in his left leg, has passed some hurdles and that he and centre Jacob Josefson are "getting closer" to returning. Josefson broke his left wrist on April 3 against the New York Islanders, in the Devils' third-to-last regular-season game, and was expected to be sidelined 4-to-6 weeks.