The New Jersey Devils raced to an early 3-0 lead, saw is slip away, then broke the tie late in the third period to claim a 3-2 series lead, winning Game Five against the New York Rangers, 5-3, at Madison Square Garden.
In the end, it was the Devils' fourth line that made the difference. Ryan Carter, who scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, played 7:44 in Game Five, less than any other Devil.
Carter had eight points and was minus-12 in 65 regular season games and now has five points and a plus-5 rating in 16 playoff games. Carter was set up for the winning goal by Stephen Gionta, who also scored the first goal of the game.
If Carter is an unlikely hero, he had to be considered more likely than Gionta, a 28-year-old who played one regular season game for the Devils and scored all of 16 points in 58 AHL games this year. With a goal and an assist in Game Five, Gionta now has six points in 17 playoff games. While the totals from Gionta and Carter seem modest, they are valauble contributions from the fourth line. (Gionta, by the way, played 9:49, second-lowest on the team, ahead of only Carter.)
Once the Devils had established a 3-0 lead before the midway point of the first period, it looked daunting for the Rangers, but there is a benefit to falling behind by three goals with more than 50 minutes remaining -- there is more time to climb the mountain when the deficit is established so early.
Even when the Devils were building their lead, they weren't controlling the play and the Rangers outshot them 28-16 for the game. The Devils had fewer than 16 shots on goal twice in 98 previous games this season, including a game against the Rangers at MSG on February 27.
With a sense of urgency, the Rangers clawed their way back into the game, first with Brandon Prust sliding a backhand under a sprawling Martin Brodeur, then goals in the first minute of both the second and third periods, when Ryan Callahan deflected a pass in off his leg and then Marian Gaborik banked a shot in off Brodeur after Brdoeur was caught out of position when the puck got away from him into the corner where he couldn't play it.
Once the Rangers tied the game early in the third period, they continued to hold the momentum, but couldn't take the lead, opening the door for Carter to play the unlikely hero.
While the Devils' fourth liners made a difference, it's worth noting that Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise each finished with two points after Parise iced the game with an empyt-net goal.
Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto had a tough night, finishing minus-3, while Brad Richards and Mike Rupp were minus-2.
Rangers centre Brian Boyle won 13 of 14 draws (92.9%).
When the Rangers had all the momentum, it looked like they might find a way to win a series that has been largely controlled by the Devils, but after New Jersey stole a win, in a game in which they were outplayed, the Blueshirts now face a huge challenge, needing a win on the road in Game Six, just in order to have a chance to win the series in Game Seven. One thing is certain, if Henrik Lundqvist isn't at the top of his game (unlike Game Five, when he stopped just 12 of 16 shots), then the Rangers won't have a chance.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.