By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
The Rangers returned to the Prudential Center for the first time since being eliminated from the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals last spring and ended up with a similarly disappointing result Tuesday night, falling to the New Jersey Devils 3-1. Despite the defeat, the game saw impressive performances from two of the Rangers top prospects, 2009 first rounder Chris Kreider and 2011 top pick JT MIller.
Trailing 3-0 after David Clarkson's second goal of the game---a power play putback at 2:53 of the final period--- Kreider finally got the Rangers on the board against Martin Brodeur at 6:28. Moments after a successful Rangers penalty kill Brad Richards flipped the puck to Kreider in full flight on left wing, and the rookie roofed a snap shot udner the crossbar for his first regular season NHL goal, cutting the visitors deficit to 3-1.
Ignited by Kreider's goal the Rangers carried the play to the Devils the remainder of the third period, with Kreider and Miller often at the forefront of the scoring chances against Brodeur. But the best of those opportunities belonged to Carl Hagelin, who was robbed on a sparkling glove save by Brodeur with 7:30 left to play following a 2-on-1 rush feed from Richards.
New Jersey had scored twice in the first period---once early and once late---to put the Rangers in a tough 2-0 road hole. Adam Henrique---who KO'd the Blueshirts from the playoffs last spring with a Game 6 overtime goal at The Rock---one-timed a Clarkson pass from behind the net past Henrik Lundqvist just five minutes into the game. And then with 53 seconds to play in the opening stanza Clarkson dug the puck out of Rick Nash's skates and whizzed a quick shot past Lundqvist for his sixth goal, and a 2-0 Devils lead.
The Rangers knew they'd be without their captain Ryan Callahan on Tuesday, as he remains on Injured Reserve with a subluxed left shoulder. But they likely didn't count on playing without All Star defenseman Dan Girardi, as well. However that is the hand the Rangers were dealt Tuesday when the team announced just before faceoff that Girardi was "banged up" and unable to play---one day after missing practice, yet just hours after taking part in the morning skate at the Prudential Center.
While Callahan and Girardi were missing from the lineup, Kreider returned after a five-game absence due to a chipped bone in his ankle, Darroll Powe made his Rangers debut just one day after being picked up from Minnesota for Mike Rupp, and Miller made his NHL debut wearing the Rangers white, red, and blue. Those three played on the same line and infused much jump and energy into the lineup, playing a fast-paced and physical brand of hockey together. Kreider, Powe, and Miller were for several stretches of play in the second period the Rangers best forward line as head coach John Tortorella was forced to juggle his top two lines to try and generate some offense against the tight Devils defense.
Nash nearly did score 4:30 into the first period after charging hard to the net and crashing into a diving Brodeur, but even though the puck rolled over the goal line, it did so only after the net had been dislodged by the fallen Nash. Eleven minutes later Brodeur dove across his crease to rob a wide-open Marc Staal after a pretty cross-crease power play pass from Kreider. And late in the second period Miller set a perfect screen in front of Brodeur, but the Devils netminder still was able to stop Hagelin's right-wing shot.
At the other end of the ice Lundqvist, who faced only four shots in the second period after seeing just eight in the opening 20 minutes, made his best save on a lunging left toe effort on Steve Bernier's point-blank attempt with 1:40 to play in the first period.
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