Down 2-1, Devils need to come up big
After the New York Rangers' Sean Avery tried to distract New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on Sunday by waving his gloves and poking his stick in front of the netminder's face, the hockey world was likely left wondering, "What was he thinking?"
Rangers backup goalie Steve Valiquette, who watched the play from the bench, answered the question Tuesday.
"He asked me when he came off the ice if I'd ever seen that," Valiquette recalled after practice. "He said, 'I don't even know why I did that. I just came up with it.' He just invented it at the moment. That's how Sean's mind works."
The Rangers look to recover from the embarrassing incident, not to mention the 4-3 overtime loss, as they host the Devils in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET).
The Rangers, who dominated the season series 7-1, with several tight, low-scoring games, now lead the best-of-seven playoff 2-1.
"It would be a lot nicer if we were up 3-0, but the reality is we're still up only 2-1," said Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr, who chipped in three assists on Sunday. "It's going to be the key game of the series. We've got to bring everything, but they're going to do the same thing to us."
New Jersey saw a ray of hope in Game 3 when John Madden banked a bad-angle shot off of Henrik Lundqvist six minutes into overtime, pulling New Jersey back into contention in the Eastern Conference series.
"I'm not going to lie. It was a lot of luck," Madden said. "I thought Sergei [Brylin] might be there, but their guy was standing there. It hit him in the foot and went in. It was real lucky, but we need to get those breaks to get back into the series."
Avery's antics may have helped him score a key goal during a 5-on-3 power play Sunday, but they will surely be remembered as one of the lowest moments of this year's playoffs.
The interference was so blatant, and so novel, that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was prompted to alter the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Avery has not addressed the media about the tactics he used to distract Brodeur, allowing his teammates to weigh in instead.
"It's not in the spirit of the game," Valiquette said. "It worked and it's effective, but it's a gentleman's game, much like golf. I wouldn't have been happy if it had happened to me. I probably would have reacted a little differently. Sean would have been picking his teeth up off the ice if it was me."
Starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist saw the play differently.
"He's a really good player and he means a lot to this team," he said. "It's a smart thing to do because it's really tough to see when you have someone move exactly the way you're moving."
Coach Tom Renney was mum on the incident, though it was clear he wasn't pleased.
"We're completely over that and we're moving on to the New Jersey Devils," Renney said. "I think Sean and everybody else knows how I operate."
Regardless of the merits of his method, Avery appears to be getting the job done. The pesky left-winger notched a goal in each post-season game to lead the series with four points (three goals, one assist).
Rangers teammate Chris Drury, who was seen skating over to Avery and saying something during the play, later said he feared a penalty would be called.
"I heard the ref behind me warning him. I didn't know if Sean heard it," Drury said. "He sounded like he was going to give him a penalty. He was saying, 'Don't do it. Don't do it. Get your stick down.' I didn't want it to all of a sudden be a 4-on-3."
Decisive Game 4
Though Avery scored on the play to put New York ahead 2-1, the Devils came back for the win, keeping their playoff ambitions alive for crucial Game 4.
If they win Wednesday, the series will be tied 2-2, but a loss means they'll be one decision away from elimination.
"For us to get back in the series and for them not to let go of control of the series, there's a lot at stake," Brodeur said. "That fear of having our backs against the wall has to be there. We did win one game, we did score four goals, the power play did well. But this is the playoffs — you can't ride it too high, you can't ride it too low."
Scoring remains the biggest challenge for defence-minded Devils. Sunday marked the first time in 17 games that New Jersey managed more than two regulation goals on Lundqvist — the last time was during the Devils' first-round sweep of the Rangers two playoffs ago.
Low-scoring New Jersey has tried to capitalize on penalties during this series, scoring three of their six goals with a man advantage.
"Anything can change momentum," Devils forward John Madden said. "You have to find ways to win games. In some games it might be the penalty killing that's doing it for you, in other games it might be your power play is scoring or your goalie is playing well. That's what it takes to win in this league, especially in a series."
With files from the Associated Press