With a chance to grab a commanding series lead Monday night at The Prudential Center, the Rangers instead found themselves beaten in every aspect of the game, including the final score, losing Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Devils 4-1. The best-of-seven series is now knotted at two games apiece with Game 5 slated for Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers are now winless in three Game Fours this spring and are 0-7 the seven times they have had the chance to grab a two-game lead in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Though beaten three times, Henrik Lundqvist was the Rangers best player on Monday, finishing with 26 saves. Martin Brodeur came within 5:05 of his 25th career post-season shutout, but surrendered a goal to Ruslan Fedotenko on a right-wing blast in the closing minutes of play.
The Rangers did not record a shot for the first ten minutes of the opening period, and by then they already trailed 1-0 on the scoreboard and had been outshot 7-0. And within a couple of minutes their deficit would be two as the Devils dominated a seemingly-flummoxed Rangers squad at every turn.
Outworking the Blueshirts right from the first drop of the puck, the Devils had several prime chances to score in the first three minutes of the game, but Lundqvist---coming off his spectacular Game 3 shutout---turned them away. However at the 8:10 mark of the first period the hard-working Devils received the break they most likely deserved when Bryce Salvador's soft wrist shot from the left point hit Anton Stralman's skate and redirected between Lundqvist's pads to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers nearly tied the score at 10:20, but Carl Hagelin's snap shot from the slot whizzed past Brodeur and caught the right post flush. Seconds later the Rangers recorded their first official shot on goal, but at 11:59 the Devils capitalized on another in a series of Ranger miscues to double their lead.
This time Michael Del Zotto turned the puck over and allowed the Devils a 2-on-1 clean entry into the Rangers zone. Zach Parise carried the puck on right wing before centering perfectly to Travis Zajac, who buried his sixth post-season goal to put the visitors in a 2-0 hole.
The Rangers settled the game down in the second period, but were denied on all 11 of their shots by Brodeur as tempers flared on both sides---most notably by Ryan Callahan and Ilya Kovalchuk, who had to be separated by officials at the buzzer. Earlier in the period Callahan took a whack at Kovalchuk's helmet with his hand and the Devils sniper retaliated by jabbing his stick in Callahan's stomach---earning minor penalties both ways.
In the first period a battle in front of the Rangers net led to Ryan McDonagh dropping the gloves with Adam Henrique---the first fight of the series. Ironically the fight took place in the game in which the Rangers top pugilist---Brandon Prust---did not play due to a one-game suspension imposed by the league. Prust was replaced in the lineup by Stu Bickel.
The Devils put the game away early in the third period when Zach Parise buried a power play rebound---with Derek Stepan in the penalty box for high sticking---at 2:41. The goal was Parise's first of the series and fifth of the playoffs. He iced the game for good with an empty-net goal at 18:31.
After Parise's first goal the Rangers took four more minor penalties including a double minor (and ten-minute misconduct) by Mike Rupp when he shoved Brodeur in the chest and set off a brief melee. The Rangers penalty kill was outstanding in killing off five of six Devil power plays in total on Monday.