Ilya Kovalchuk scores in return, but Devils fall to Rangers 3-1

NY Rangers 3, New Jersey 1

It was pretty hard to blame the Devils’ woes on Ilya Kovalchuk after the team was bludgeoned 6-1 by the Buffalo Sabres in his absence. You cannot really point to him for this loss, either, as Kovalchuk was the only New Jersey player to pierce Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the Devils’ fourth loss in five games.

Many will focus on the Devils’ struggles – after all, last season’s Atlantic Division winners are now 2-6-1 in nine troubling games – but let’s not ignore the Rangers’ hard work. The Blueshirts are on a three-game winning streak and won each contest by one goal, despite being without crucial offensive weapons such as Marian Gaborik. One might even say that the Rangers are doing their best impression of the Devils in the last few contests.

Michal Rozsival and Ryan Callahan scored while Brandon Dubinsky added an empty-netter for the Rangers, who put 33 shots on Martin Brodeur.

Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise combined for 15 of the Devils’ 28 shots tonight, indicating that the team’s top scorers are getting a little frustrated … but are certainly giving it the old college try. The Devils dominated the third period (out-shooting the Rangers 12-5) but could only get one puck past Henrik Lundqvist in the game and that frame.

A lot of blame will go to rookie coach John MacLean – and with good reason – but the Devils might want to ponder changing their captain as well. Jamie Langenbrunner is a solid two-player who can bring a lot of intangibles to the table, but he’s a -6 so far this season and took three penalties in this one. Perhaps Langenbrunner remains sour after an ugly 2009-10 season that included a healthy scratch and some serious issues with former coach Jacques Lemaire? Either way, he hasn’t been playing well and his contract expires after this season. He might be an interesting guy to watch in trade rumors going forward.

The Rangers find themselves in the middle of the Atlantic Division race now, with nine points in seven games played, keeping them on pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins (11 points in 9 GP) and New York Islanders (10 points in 8 GP).

Meanwhile, the Devils are among the worst teams in the NHL so far. They’ve earned only five points in nine games played which ties them with Ottawa (but the Senators played eight) and places them one point ahead of Florida (but the Panthers only appeared in six games at this point).

Neither team should get too high or too low, but you can bet the Rangers relished pouring a little salt in the wounds of their regional rivals.

Video: Trisha Yearwood sings national anthem for Preds-Ducks

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Keith Urban sang the national anthem for Game 3. Kelly Clarkson did the honors for the Nashville Predators before Game 4. Next up: Trisha Yearwood for Game 6.

The Predators hope to close out the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, and they got off to a nice start with Austin Watson scoring a quick 1-0 goal. Not long after, the Predators added another to build to a 2-0 lead.

Garth Brooks spoiled Yearwood’s appearance a bit before the contest.

Brooks also revealed Yearwood’s early fan creds:

Nick Ritchie ejected after boarding, bloodying Viktor Arvidsson (Video)

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Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie scored a goal in Game 4, but he won’t be able to provide such a scoring boost for his team in Game 6.

That’s because he was ejected during the first period after hitting rising Nashville Predators star Viktor Arvidsson from behind, bloodying the slick Swede.

Ritchie was whistled for a game misconduct and major. Remarkably, the Ducks killed the entire five-minute power-play opportunity, with Ryan Kesler‘s shorthanded chance being one of the better opportunities for either team.

It’s still a big blunder, but if the Ducks can get back in it, remember that big kill.

Video of the hit is coming soon. For now, check out the GIF:

Oddly, Arvidsson left the ice with a wound that more or less spelled out “R,” presumably for Ritchie, maybe celebrating the return of “Twin Peaks.”

(Such an obvious move might not be surreal enough for David Lynch, though. Alex Prewitt’s Zorro reference might be more, um, on the mark.)

Video: Predators storm off to 2-0 lead, beguile Bernier early on

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It was already loud at Bridgestone Arena, but the Nashville Predators are making it a madhouse with a strong start against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

First, it was Austin Watson, who sent a puck off a Ducks skate to score a 1-0 goal on Nashville’s first shot on Jonathan Bernier, who is starting instead of John Gibson. That came about 90 seconds into the game, really revving up the crowd.

Colton Sissons scored his first goal of the Western Conference Final – on his first shot on goal of the series – to make it 2-0. At that point, Bernier had allowed two goals on three shots on goal. Bernier’s made a few stops since then, but it’s a shaky start for a Ducks team facing elimination.

There’s some solace in that Anaheim’s often at its best in dire situations, though you have to wonder how many times they can bounce back from this?

No Mike Fisher or Craig Smith for Predators in Game 6

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The Anaheim Ducks won’t have John Gibson back, but the Nashville Predators are dealing with some injury-related letdowns, too.

Craig Smith skated before Game 6, but he opted not to play on Monday. Mike Fisher is also unable to go for the Predators as they aim to eliminate Anaheim.

The Ducks also won’t have Rickard Rakell back in the mix, so this physical Western Conference Final continues to feel like a battle of attrition.

Click here for the official roster report.

Game 5 is airing on NBCSN right now. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

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