Through five playoff games between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers we have a series that is as tight as it can get. In fact, there has been no goal differential whatsoever with each club scoring 12 times. The Rangers, in their two victories squeaked out 3-0 scores, while the Devils have been a bit more dominating in their wins despite the numbers not quite painting that picture. The difference between the two teams, however, remains a relentless forecheck from the Devils.
Last night, the Devils squandered a 3-0 lead by the beginning of the third period. The Rangers finally found a way to break through their prevent defense, deploying a forecheck reminiscent of their opponent. However, it was the Devils who broke through on the strength of their game plan.
Let's get the video out and take a minute to review Ryan Carter's game winning goal.
Every good forecheck starts with a well-placed dump in. After Stephen Gionta threw the puck into the corner, superstar Ilya Kovalchuk raced after it, immediately putting pressure on Ranger defender Michael Del Zotto. As Del Zotto battled for the puck, it squirted to his left and onto the stick of Gionta. And in a split-second, Gionta threw it in front of the net to the open Carter for a tap-in goal.
"Kovalchuk did a great job getting it on the forecheck there and being a good F-1, like we talked about, and taking the body," Gionta said after the game. "The puck was just sitting there and closed my eyes and threw it out to Cart."
The Devils' ability to constantly pressure the Rangers' defense has given them a big advantage in the series. Not only do their stars like Kovalchuk and captain Zach Parise pester their opponent below the hash-marks, guys like Gionta, Carter, and Steve Bernier emulate their determination which, in effect, keeps the pressure constantly on the opposing defense.
Devils' coach Pete DeBoer's message was simple: stay on the forecheck. "[We're] just going out there, keeping it simple, getting the pucks in deep and getting on the forecheck and try to wear the other team down," Gionta further explained. And that exact strategy is what allowed this Devils' club to defeat the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers. It's that same game plan that puts New Jersey within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Regardless, at this point, the Devils know they aren't impenetrable. They still have two games to win, and know last night's win wasn't perfect.
"I thought we were tentative," said DeBoer in retrospect. "Started to play a little in between, got away from our forecheck and really for the middle portion of the game, you know, they had us on our heels." The Devils only registered 17 shots on the evening with five coming in the second period-- a frame that saw them defend at an exorbitant rate.
But eventually the club found their game, and had enough to win it. "I thought we found a way to weather the storm and we hung with it, and we felt that if we could get back on the forecheck we could create some more offense," DeBoer continued. "And the goal was a forecheck goal. Kovalchuk goes in, eliminates the defensemen. Gionta scoops up the puck and makes a play."
The Devils found a way to keep the game tight and, at the right time, perfectly installed their game plan. Had the Rangers remained pesky on the forecheck, the game could have gone into over time or to a completely different result. Luckily for the Devils, the Rangers sat on their heels and watched the Devils climb back into the game. And letting the team continue to forecheck relentlessly proved to be a lethal mistake for the Rangers.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.