After the Rangers survived the 3 p.m. trade deadline unscathed and Monday night's 2-0 defensive struggle with the Devils, there was time for reflection.
"There's a bit of an exhale," Mike Rupp said. "We were a little chipper in the room before the game. You sacrifice a lot to get here."
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Those sacrifices continued at the Garden in a high-energy, chippy, entertaining game with playoff intensity. It wasn't sealed until Ryan Callahan scored into an empty net with 1:06 left on a feed from Carl Hagelin, who scored in the first period.
"It turned into a grinding contest," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "There wasn't much room. It was a 'fight for your ice' kind of game." Each team recorded a season low in shots: the Rangers 15, the Devils 13.
"Both teams played smart," said Henrik Lundqvist, who has four shutouts in his last 12 games and a league-leading eight this season. He also has at least 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons, a record. "It wasn't the most exciting game I played, but I'll take it, it's two points,'' he said. "It was weird. You know that sooner or later they will get one or two chances, especially when it's 1-nothing. I had to push myself to stay focused."
Lundqvist preserved the Rangers' 40th win with a glove save on Ilya Kovalchuk's rising snap shot from the left circle with 2:26 to play. With 86 points, the Rangers (40-15-6) passed the Red Wings for second overall in the NHL, one behind the Canucks.
Brandon Dubinsky had heard all the rumors about his being a centerpiece of a proposed trade with the Blue Jackets for Rick Nash. Dubinsky played 14:02, had five of the Rangers' 37 hits and dropped the gloves with David Clarkson after Clarkson jumped to whack him high along the boards at 19:27 of the second period. The "Dubi, Dubi" chants rained down as he skated off.
Said Tortorella: "He, along with everyone else, did the job along the walls, and Dubi gets in a good fight."
"It was just a matter of time [before Clarkson fought somebody]," said Dubinsky, who said he had 22 games left to turn around a season in which he has only six goals. "He seems to always turn away from the tougher guys. That's just the way he is."
Aggressive forechecking and pounding on the boards were the game's signature. The Rangers had 15 hits in the first period, three each from Rupp, Brian Boyle and Callahan, and 27 after two periods. Hagelin's 11th goal, and third point in two games, was the only score.
In that case, the forechecking paid off. Callahan shrugged off Devils defenseman Andy Greene behind the net and found Hagelin at the left post as defenseman Mark Fayne spun toward Callahan. Hagelin's quick shot beat Martin Brodeur with 3:05 left in the first period.
Hagelin has four goals and 10 assists in the last 18 games. Callahan has 11 points in the last 10 games. The Rangers improved to 29-1-2 when scoring first.
"We can score some goals," Ryan McDonagh said. "If we defend well enough, we can win some games."