For the Rangers, the formula for stretching a winning streak to three games for the first time since Nov. 15 was pretty basic: ferocious forechecking.
“We made them turn the puck over a lot,” said J.T. Miller, whose ninth goal in the last 10 games at 4:37 of the third period proved to be the game-winner in a 2-1 defeat of the Devils on Monday night at the Garden.
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“We were skating and getting pucks in when we had to on the blue line and that started a lot of our offense.”
Before the game, the Rangers, who were credited with 36 hits, spoke about going after the Devils’ defense, and the tactic worked.
“The forechecking was the best part of our game tonight,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “When they put pucks on the wall, it makes our reads easier. Quickie [Jesper Fast] was a buzzsaw, and we had a lot of guys getting in on them. The whole game, we were in control.”
It was the sixth win in the past eight games — and 20th of the season at home — for the Rangers (30-18-5, 65 points), who visit red-hot Sidney Crosby (22 points in 11 games) and the Penguins on Wednesday night.
“Washington’s far ahead of us [in the Metropolitan Division],” said Dan Girardi, but noted that teams fighting for playoff spots, such as the Penguins, are just four points behind the Rangers. “We need to keep creating some space and keep trying to climb as high as we can go.”
The Rangers again will play Wednesday without top-pair defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh, who was concussed on a sucker-punch from Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds on Saturday.
Alain Vigneault asked defenseman Dan Boyle to move from the right to left side, and put rookie Dylan McIlrath into the lineup. “I didn’t think he looked out of place,” Vigneault said. “He and Dylan had a pretty good game.”
Through two periods, the Rangers, who also are without Rick Nash (left leg) outskated the Devils five-on-five but were countered by Cory Schneider, who made 28 saves on 29 shots, while his teammates blocked 21 shot attempts. Schneider totaled 35 saves; Henrik Lundqvist had 27.
The game’s first goal was from defenseman Kevin Klein. His fourth of the season and first since Nov. 3 came from the lower left circle off a feed from Mats Zuccarello. That came at 4:47 of the second, snapping Klein’s 27-game drought.
“I tried to get lost behind the net,” said Klein, who has a fractured right thumb. “As soon as I saw him make that turn, I just set up, because he makes those plays. He put it right in my wheelhouse.”
After the fourth Rangers power play was unsuccessful, Derick Brassard crossed the blue line and dropped a short pass for the charging Miller, who skated down the middle and fired, beating Schneider low stickside.
The two-goal lead stood until Travis Zajac scored shorthanded on a two-on-one, off Keith Yandle’s turnover, with 2:17 left in regulation. The Blueshirts’ power play had some good opportunities but was 0-for-5 and dropped to 2-for-49.
“Giving up a shorty was kind of a buzz kill,” Miller said. “But we played a really good game again.”