New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers: 5 Things We Learned

Peter MillsContributor IIIFebruary 8, 2012

New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers: 5 Things We Learned

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    When the Eastern Conference leader faces off against the (arguably) hottest team in the league, you know the game is going to be exciting. When those two teams happen to hate each other, it makes it that much better.

    The Devils came into tonight with a four game winning streak that's seen them beat three divisional rivals. Tonight, the Devils extended that streak to five with their second win over the Rangers in the last eight days.

    The game had some very exciting moments, and it also had some pretty controversial moments. But when you boil it all down, what have we learned? 

David Clarkson Is for Real

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    David Clarkson has a bit of a reputation as a thug. And to be honest, it's hard to argue with. For the last few years, he has been the go-to guy for the Devils when the other team needs agitating. He's extremely physical, and often deferred to his strength rather than his skill. But this season, we're reminded just how much skill he has.

    A promising season in 2008-09 saw Clarkson set career highs in goals (17) and assists (15). At the time, he looked a lot like a young Milan Lucic: some skill, some good production and a whole lot of physicality.

    But after missing extended time the following season due to injury, Clarkson's been a bit of a bust. Last year he had just 18 points through all 82 games, and finished the season -20.

    However, the carousel of Devils coaches once again turned this postseason, and in came Pete Deboer, Clarkson's former OHL coach. 

    Well, whatever connection the two had, it's certainly had a positive affect on Clarkson's production. Through just 53 games, he's already amassed 21 goals and shows no signs of slowing down. He's more energetic, he's more aggressive and he's creating chances that he didn't used to.

Marty Can Still Be Perfect

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    At this point in his career, not too many are questioning Martin Brodeur's lifetime numbers. His all-time records in wins, shutouts, games, minutes, saves and about a dozen other categories speak for themselves.

    But the Brodeur of the past few years is not the shoe-in for the Hall of Fame us Devils fans have come to love. His glove has slowed, he's grown more injury prone and in general, he just seems less focused.

    Tonight, Brodeur recorded his first shutout of the season. It wasn't the prettiest of shutouts, but it couldn't have been more important, given the opponent.

    He doesn't need a lot of shutouts. He doesn't even need another one this season. But the mere fact that he's still capable of playing perfect games should give a lot of hope to the Devils' faithful.

Henrik Lundqvist Is the Best Goalie in the League

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    He might not have gotten the win, but Lundqvist played an exquisite game. This makes sense, given how extraordinary his season has been: He currently sits second in the league with a 1.8 GAA, and leads the league in save percentage at .939.

    Make no mistake about it: he is the reason the Rangers are doing well right now. His consistency, his calmness and his top-tier skill all contribute, but he has just been special this year. Almost '11 Thomas special.

    For a long time, I tried to dismiss Lundy as a superstar. I wrote off his Olympic win as a fluke, and noted his lack of success in the postseason as an example of his ineptitude. But really, at this point, trying to make that argument would be ignorant. He has become as reliable a goalie as exists in the league.

The Devils Are for Real

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    The Atlantic division is difficult, there's no doubt about it. The Rangers lead the east with 71 points, while Philly, New Jersey and Pittsburgh occupy the next three available spots—four, five and six, respectively. Even the Islanders can make things tough from time to time. But in that strong of a division, it's easy to write off some teams.

    With that in mind, many wrote off the Devils early in the season. The argument was understandable: they were coming off of their first playoff miss in more than a decade and a half, and didn't significantly improve anything. Additionally, the other Atlantic teams seemed to solidify their spots as elite Eastern teams.

    The Flyers and Rangers have both occupied the top spot at some point this season, and both are certainly scary teams. But the Devils just beat both of those teams, along with the Penguins—for the most part, in fairly convincing fashion.

    I'm not saying the Devils are going to win the Stanley Cup. I'm not even saying they'll make it past the first round. But the way the team is playing right now, I would think that no team in the league would hope for that first-round playoff matchup.

NHL Reffing Needs to Change

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    There's no way the end to the game tonight wouldn't be controversial. With about three seconds remaining, a collision with Brodeur led to a Rangers goal, which was disallowed.

    The Rangers quickly complained that Gaborik had been pushed into Brodeur, while the Devils seemed to accept that it was a Ranger's fault. It's not like they were going to complain.

    Now, I don't really know what the right call was. From my perspective, it looked as though Volchenkov was applying pressure to Gaborik from the side, and not towards Brodeur. It seemed to me that Gaborik simply didn't stop, or at least make enough of an attempt to stop, and as such, collided with Brodeur.

    I'm sure others see it differently. I'm a big Devils fan, and my view of the play may very well be tainted. But this is not the first time this season that games have ended with controversial calls. Inconsistent—and sometimes, uneven—reffing has been prevalent for years.

    The problem, as I see it, is that in many cases, no one really knows what's going on. There are few explanations from the refs, and players and teams always side with their respective organizations.

    Perhaps it's just a given in sports that can't be addressed, but I think there needs to be something done to better articulate calls during games, both to fans and to players. I'm tired of seeing confused-looking players standing angrily by the bench as they wait to hear the ref's judgment.

    I suppose what I'm getting at is, there's gonna be a lot of different views on how the game ended tonight. None of them will be wrong. But the NHL needs to get the sport to a place where the rules are universally understood. Even if fans don't like a call, they understand why it's being made.

    Until the rules become that black and white, there will only be more games like tonight: brilliantly played, highly exciting and at the end, completely unsatisfying.