By IRA PODELL, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers don't like being all even after two games, but they sure are used to it.
For the third straight series, the Eastern Conference's top-seeded team has failed to build on an opening-game win, and now they have yielded home-ice advantage yet again. The Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals couldn't make the most of it. The New Jersey Devils have other plans.
"We've been in this situation before," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said after New York's 3-2 loss on Wednesday night. "We just have to go into Jersey and try to get that next game. We can't get down."
The Rangers bounced back with Game 3 wins in both previous rounds. They will get their next chance Saturday in Newark.
Two things New York can probably count on are a close game and another series that goes the distance. The Rangers outlasted the Senators and Capitals in seven games to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1997. Of the Rangers' 16 postseason games, 12 have been decided by one goal.
After posting the best regular-season record in the East, New York is only 9-7 in the playoffs.
"Overall, we just have to be better," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.
With a two-day break between games, both teams will skip practice on Thursday before getting back on the ice Friday.
The Devils quickly changed the game plan from the opener. Instead of letting the Rangers block their shots, they decided to deflect some themselves. It worked twice. David Clarkson scored a tip-in goal off Adam Henrique's shot 2:31 into the third period as New Jersey rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win.
"It's a very hard building to play in, and 1-1 sounds much better than down 2-0," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We're happy. We would have liked to have snuck out of here with two wins, but it didn't happen. We'll take 1-1."
Before the game, the Rangers stressed how important it would be to grab a 2-0 lead, which would have been their first two-game edge in this postseason, but then didn't provide the necessary effort to get it done.
"You need to improve as hockey team every game," said succinct and disappointed coach John Tortorella, who declined to say what areas were deficient.
Clarkson built off the momentum created by Ryan Carter's deflected goal late in the second period that tied the game, 2-2. Ilya Kovalchuk had given the Devils a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal in the first. Defenseman Bryce Salvador added two assists, and Martin Brodeur stopped 23 saves for his 108th playoff win.
Clarkson has three goals this postseason, and every one has been a game-winner, including the series-clincher against Philadelphia in Game 5 of the second round.
"Mr. Clutch? I don't know about that," Clarkson said. "I'm going to skate up and down and finish the checks and just bounce off people. It's just a great feeling to be able to contribute. To get a tip on that felt pretty good."
New Jersey had 26 attempted shots blocked in Game 1, 5 more than they got through to Lundqvist. The Devils cut the blocks to 16 on Wednesday and managed to get 27 on goal — two more than New York.
"That team blocks so many shots," Clarkson said. "It's unbelievable how many. I think we found a way to shoot it and get sticks on it, and definitely that was big for us."
Marc Staal and Chris Kreider scored power-play goals in the second period for the Rangers, who had 24 saves by Lundqvist.
New Jersey got even when Salvador wound up for a shot at the blue line and fired a drive that Carter — with his back to the net — brilliantly deflected past Lundqvist with 1:51 left in the second. Marian Gaborik stood up straight in front of Salvador, but didn't drop down as many of his teammates have to try to block the shot. For that, he was pinned to the bench by Tortorella, even through New York's power play in the third.
"On the second goal, I didn't get the puck out, I guess. I don't know. You'll have to ask him," said Gaborik, who returned to the ice with 8:40 remaining as the Rangers pressed to tie.
The Devils kept the pressure on the Rangers at the start of the third and wiped out the good work New York displayed in the second.
"It was a much different reaction when we went down by a goal than it was in the first game," Parise said. "We didn't change the way we played, and I think that was a big difference. We were comfortable with how we were playing. "