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Devils take joy in frustrating the Rangers

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Devils take joy in frustrating the Rangers

From Comcast SportsNet
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- If you have any doubt the New Jersey Devils are frustrating the New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference finals, just look at Game 4. Forget that Zach Parise scored two goals and set up another in the Devils' 4-1 win that evened the series at 2-all. Look at the extracurricular stuff in the game Monday night. Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur got sucker-punched by former teammate Mike Rupp, who might now be facing a suspension. New Jersey teammates Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier were the victims of cheap shots, and the Rangers spent most of the final 20 minutes killing off penalties and acting foolish. In 48 hours, the tide has turned again in this series between longtime rivals. Henrik Lundqvist is no longer in the Devils' heads, and the Rangers seemingly are the ones fighting demons heading into Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. "It's a good sign, I guess, when they take liberties on players," Brodeur said after making 28 saves en route to his 10th postseason win. "That means they're getting off their game a little bit. We've been working really hard, putting our head down, taking a lot of shots throughout the playoffs. "It's no different in this series," the 40-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner said. "And as we go, we're going to keep doing the same. And it's paying off for us to be disciplined about these things." The Rangers were undisciplined. They took six penalties and one led to Parise's first goal early in the third period that pushed the lead to 3-0. The tally gave New Jersey a comfortable lead, but the game was far from over, especially when Rupp punched Brodeur with a jab that appeared to connect in the neck area and slide up his mask. The punch seemingly came out of nowhere and almost set off a battle on the ice. It did spark a shouting match between coaches Peter DeBoer of the Devils and John Tortorella of the Rangers on the benches. "You don't like to see that," DeBoer said of the hit on his goaltender. "He's a key guy for us. Two teams battling it out. He's a big boy. He can take care of himself." Brodeur was more surprised by the incident than anything. "I didn't expect anything," he said. "I never got punched like that in my career. First time. It kind of surprised me more than anything, but now I know I can take a punch." Tortorella refused to say anything about his shouting match with DeBoer, with whom he has argued several times this season, including Sunday when he complained about the Devils using illegal picks and embellishing penalties. "This isn't about John and I," DeBoer said. "This is about the guys on the ice. So, I don't have anything to say about that." This game -- and its result -- was almost anticlimactic after the shenanigans. Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac beat Henrik Lundqvist less than four minutes apart in the first to give the Devils their first two-goal lead in the series, which is developing an intensity and emotion comparable to the classic 1994 Eastern Conference Finals between these two rivals. In that series, there were suspensions on both sides, three double-overtime games, a Game 6 "Guarantee" by New York captain Mark Messier, and unparalleled drama. Well, this one is getting there. On Monday, Brodeur, the only remaining player on either side from that series, even notched an assist in the third, on Parise's empty netter, capping a game in which the Devils maintained their composure and bounced back from a 3-0 shutout in Game 3, while the Rangers took several uncharacteristic penalties and seemed rattled from the start. And the chippiness increased with each period. New York's Marc Staal whacked Elias in the back of the knee with his stick in the second. Ryan Callahan, the Rangers captain, and New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk tussled and then jawed at each other from the respective penalty boxes. "There are going to be situations out there where we get into each other's faces," Callahan said. "That's playoff hockey." But the Rupp incident might have been a little over the top, even for the Stanley Cup playoffs. A former Devil who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for New Jersey in 2003 against Anaheim, Rupp jabbed Brodeur while the goalie was in his crease in the third after a stoppage in play. That almost set off a free-for-all among the players on the ice, especially after Brodeur reacted like he had been hit by a roundhouse left. As Brodeur walked through the locker room, he was asked if Rupp was his friend. "That's what I thought," he said before heading to the podium for a postgame news conference. Rupp was not available for comment. Ruslan Fedotenko ruined Brodeur's bid for his 25th career playoff shutout with just over five minutes to play. The Rangers pulled Lundqvist, who had shut out the Devils in Games 1 and 3, with less than three minutes to play, and Brodeur made two outstanding saves to keep it a two-goal game. Parise -- two days after he did not speak to reporters after a disappointing effort in Game 3 -- finally iced it with his second of the game and sixth of the playoffs. It was a clearing pass that found its way into the net. Brodeur's assist was his fourth point of the playoffs, an NHL record for a goaltender in one postseason. But this game -- which did not include New York's Brendan Prust, who was suspended for elbowing Anton Volchenkov in Game 3 -- was decided early because the Devils finally found ways to beat Lundqvist. Salvador's wrist shot from the point found its way through a half-dozen players and sneaked by the Rangers' netminder for New Jersey's first goal since the third period of Game 2. Zajac's goal gave the Devils a 2-0 edge at 11:59, and the rejuvenated Parise had a big hand in it. New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus sent the puck along the boards and New York's Michael Del Zotto made two mistakes. He didn't flag down the puck and then he allowed Parise to skate past him, setting up a 2-on-1 break. Parise lifted a pass over the stick of a prone Dan Girardi, and Zajac one-timed the pass into the upper portion of the net before Lundqvist could react. Parise extended the lead to 3-0 early in the third, just 4 seconds after New York's Derek Stepan was sent off for high-sticking. Kovalchuk took a shot from the point that Lundqvist could not control and Parise whacked the rebound into the net. NOTES: Veteran Petr Sykora, who had played in every game for the Devils this season and won the 2000 Stanley Cup with New Jersey, sat, as Jacob Josefson returned to the lineup. ... With Prust forced to miss the game, the Rangers dressed seven defenseman, including Stu Bickel, who returned to the lineup after sitting for Game 3. ... Rangers rookie forward Chris Kreider had his three-game goal scoring streak snapped. ... The Devils' win was played on the 18th anniversary of New Jersey's 3-1 victory over the Rangers in the aforementioned 1994 series. That was also a Game 4, and that also tied that series, 2-2. New York went on to win in seven games. ... Monday night's game marked the first time the Rangers allowed more than three goals in a contest during these playoffs. New York tied an NHL record by holding its opponents to three goals or less in 17 consecutive games to begin the postseason.

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Kyrie Irving raises his leadership game while dropping daggers on Wizards

Kyrie Irving raises his leadership game while dropping daggers on Wizards

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Chants of “M.V.P” reverberated inside the Wizards’ home venue. The All-Star point guard dazzled the crowd with stylish plays and gutsy choices. He stumped the opposition by sinking shots with defenders offering no ground. 

Such proclamations from the masses made sense, except they weren’t for hometown hero John Wall.

Kyrie Irving stole the show. The Celtics star and burgeoning team leader dropped the Wizards with 12 of his 38 points coming in overtime. He left Scott Brooks dumbfounded after hitting two crushing 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds as Washington fell 130-125 Wednesday night.

“Great players make great shots, amazing shots (in big moments),” said Brooks with a tone of a head coach yet to fully process how Irving downed his side.

Other players shredded Washington’s defense this season. Often that occurred because the Wizards lacked energy and defensive connectivity. Despite a few lapses at times, that wasn’t the case in the first meeting of the season between the two Eastern Conference rivals. Against Irving, even the tiniest of cracks were exploited.

Irving didn’t just score 12 in the extra period, but Boston’s final dozen points in the Celtics’ seventh consecutive win. Half came on a pair of bombs.

“He makes one, maybe it’s a different game. He made both, it’s tough to overcome,” Brooks said after Washington’s losing streak reached three games. “It was a great game. We fought. It could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”

With the Wizards leading 123-122, Irving nearly fumbled the ball away on the left wing with Wall nearly nose-to-nose. The NBA’s best ball-handler corraled the attempted runaway, rose and drained the heavily contested 3-pointer.

After Wall tied the game with one of his numerous faster-than-fast driving layups, Irving put the Celtics up for good with a 31-footer that found the bottom of the net with 17.3 seconds left.

“Just trying to win the game, honestly, trying to get enough separation,” said Irving, who sat out Boston's previous game with a shoulder injury. “Three points are pretty much a dagger, so I just tried to get my feet set and get my elbow pointed to the rim. It was a little deep out, but a very makeable shot." 

Despite the tension-filled scenario, nobody could be stunned Irving delivered.

“He’s always had a knack for that,” Brooks said of the player that sank the series-winning shot for the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Leadership wasn’t always a breeze for Irving, the No. 1 overall pick the year after Washington selected Wall first in 2010. He bolted Cleveland in the summer of 2017 after three seasons of highs and frustrations with LeBron James. Wall held the face-of-the-franchise status with the Wizards. Irving would get his turn with the storied Celtics.

The scoring and playmaking comes naturally. Playing the role of team tone-setter takes work. The evolution isn’t complete.

"It’s an everyday job. It’s part of kind of the next step of evolution for me in my career, of just learning what that means for me and what type of leader I want to be,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround on the campus of Georgetown University.

“He’s always been good about [leadership],” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said or Irving. "When he first came in, I thought he did a great job of just kinda fitting in and making sure that everybody, 1 through 15, knows that he’s invested in them. And that’s all you can do from a leadership standpoint. It starts with being authentic, it starts with investing in people. Then you have a chance to go from there and he’s done all that stuff.”

Irving sought guidance, but wouldn’t reveal identities.

 "I will never tell you guys. Never tell you guys,” he said. "I like having a mystical wisdom feel, older board of people I like to go to.”

He did disclose their teachings.

"Patience. Patience. Patience,” Irving said. "Even for myself, I think at this point in my career it’s not necessarily about my skills or my talent, it’s more about how do I echo greatness to our group every single day and figure out what that looks like for us. That’s been the biggest challenge for me.”

Stars are often thrust into leadership roles regardless of their acumen for the gig.

"You see it all the time,” Irving said. “I think it’s a little unfair to have that responsibility but the ones that are meant for it are willing to accept it and figure out how they learn best leading a group and just being the best player,” said Irving. "It’s easy to go out and score 27 points, go get it and nothing else really matters and you’re just caring about yourself. 

"When you have to care about a whole entire group, really depend on just learning who you’re playing with every single day, who is coaching you, that relationship, that’s far more important to me now that it is just being able to be the young guy fourth year in the league trying to get a bunch of points and assists and be in the top standings. As long as we’re winning and we’re up in the top of the teams and my teammates are feeling good, I’m happy.”

Even with work remaining, Irving’s growth stood out to one of his biggest rivals.

“Kyrie has always been a great scorer, a great player,” said Wall, who had 34 points and 13 assists. “A lot of people didn’t know if he had leadership ability to lead by himself. He’s doing a heck of a job with other great players over there and a great coach.”

The Wizards did a credible job against Irving and the Celtics. Just not enough to avoid the other team’s point guard from carrying the day.

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John Wall overcomes injury scare for solid return, albeit in a loss to the Celtics

John Wall overcomes injury scare for solid return, albeit in a loss to the Celtics

With two minutes remaining in overtime, and in the midst of a late-game scoring barrage, John Wall drove to his right and gained a step on Kyrie Irving. He finished off the glass with his left hand as Irving jumped and twisted midair under the rim.

The two landed at nearly the exact same time, on the baseline and not far from the Wizards' bench. Irving, though, was a split-second later and came down right on Wall's right ankle.

As play continued on the other end of the floor, Wall remained on the ground, writhing in pain. He slapped the hardwood and yelled as trainers rushed to his aid. 

Though he was able to return soon after, the fall was a serious injury scare in what has been a tumultuous week for Wall. He missed their last game due to bone spurs in his left heel and was listed as questionable before tip-off against the Celtics. That is all on top of the fact he was sick and also dealing with off-court matters that made him miss a game last week.

The Wizards lost to Boston, but Wall managed to return with one of his best games of the season. He had 34 points, 13 assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. He shot 53.8 percent from the field and had 12 points in the fourth quarter to help force overtime after the Wizards were outscored by 16 in the third.

After his ankle injury, Wall was replaced by Tomas Satoransky. Only 45 seconds of gametime later, he returned.

"If it ain't broke, play," Wall said.

Teammate Bradley Beal had a similar view of the situation.

"I was just hoping he was okay. He said he couldn't go," Beal said. "But he ended up checking right back in. He's a warrior. If it ain't broke, he's playing."

The ankle injury may need to be monitored in the coming days, but Wall appears to be somewhat out of the woods with his heel. It's an injury he has battled on and off for nearly four years. This week, it just happened to get to a point where it was as painful as its ever been. 

A few days of treatment and one game off seemed to do the trick. Wall believes it isn't much of a concern anymore.

"The heel is great," he said. "Between today and the Cleveland game, it was night and day. I was moving. It felt a lot better so give a lot of credit to the training staff.”

Wall scored 19 points from the start of the fourth quarter on. He went 9-for-13 to finish the game and all of his makes were right at the rim.

If anything positive can be taken from a tough loss to the Celtics, it's that Wall got back to what he does best. Whatever burst he was lacking against the Cavaliers on Saturday, arguably the worst game of his career, seemed to have returned in this one. Whether it was Irving, Marcus Smart or Jayson Tatum, no Celtics player had luck stopping Wall off the dribble.

Wall is clearly nicked up and playing through pain, now with injuries to both of his legs. But if Wednesday's game was any indication, he still has enough to be effective. Whether that's enough to start leading the Wizards to wins remains to be seen.

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