The Devils may have lost to the Rangers on Tuesday night, but their coach was proud of the way they performed.
“For having a short lineup and the kids we had at key positions, I felt we played a helluva hockey game,” Peter DeBoer said after his team’s four-game winning streak came to an end following a 4-1 loss to the Rangers at the Prudential Center.
“It was like a playoff type game at ice-level. They had some puck luck around the net that we didn’t get, and that was the story.”
Despite not having Patrik Elias (illness) and Henrik Tallinder (back spasms), the Devils came out flying from the drop of the puck. They struck first when Travis Zajac -- moved up to the second line in Elias’ absence -- scored his first goal of the season off a rebound at 15:51 of the first period.
“It would’ve been nice if I could’ve gotten another one, but nonetheless it’s still a good feeling to get that one,” said Zajac, who was playing in just his third game after missing the last four months with an Achilles’ injury.
They just didn’t strike again.
“I thought we competed hard, we just never got that goal we needed to break the game open,” Martin Brodeur said.
The heated rivalry between the two clubs quickly spilled from the stands onto the ice. Three seconds into the game, Cam Janssen and Mike Rupp dropped the gloves and went at it. One-hundred four seconds later, David Clarkson and Brandon Dubinsky obliged one another and did the same.
“There’s a reason why we both started,” said Janssen. “I asked him [to fight], and apparently, he said yes. I was just trying to set the tone.”
Standing 6-feet, 215 pounds, Janssen was giving up five inches and 15 pounds to Rupp. So why fight him?
“Because that’s my job, I really don’t care,” the 27-year-old enforcer said.
“That doesn’t bother me because the small guy has a heart of a lion,” DeBeor said of the size disadvantage, “He’s been doing that for a long time, and he’s a big part of our team.”
“Every time you play those guys it’s playoff hockey,” Clarkson said. “There’s gonna be hits fights offense and that’s what that game was.”
It would’ve been a 2-0 game with 10:28 to go in the second if Adam Henrique could’ve beaten Henrik Lundqvist. Henrique deflected a perfect pass from Ilya Kovalchuk on goal, but The King somehow kept it out of the net with a right pad save.
“I put it right where I wanted,” Henrique said. “But he obviously got across there and made a big save.”
It proved to be the turning point.
The Rangers outscored the Devils 4-0 from there. Artem Ansimov tied the game at 1 with 2:32 remaining in the second, and Marian Gaborik gave the Blueshirts a lead they’d never relinquish 4:45 into the third. Anisimov’s sharp-angle backhander from the bottom of the right circle somehow stuck through Brodeur’s right arm, and Gaborik put home the rebound.
“It went straight through Brodeur said. I thought I had squeezed it.”
The Devils had a bevy of chances to equalize. They just never could. Another short-handed goal -- the 10th allowed by the Devils, an NHL worst -- proved to be the dagger.
“We just won six out of seven and that may have been the best 60-minute effort we had in that entire stretch,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t come out on the right end, but I liked the way we played.”
The Devils have five games remaining against the Rangers to get their revenge.