NEWARK - This victory wasn't pretty.
The Rangers allowed 36 shots through 40 minutes to the worst team in the league, and the winner bounced off a Devils defenseman's leg and in.
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"We'll take the two points and get the hell out of here," Rangers coach John Tortorella said after a 3-1 win in a game in which Henrik Lundqvist made 43 saves, 20 in the second period. One was on a breakaway by Mattias Tedenby with six minutes left that preserved a one-goal lead.
The Rangers grabbed the edge just a half-minute earlier, when Michal Rozsival darted off the right point, corraled a pass from Brandon Dubinsky and snapped a shot that was headed a foot wide until it hit Andy Greene's leg and went in on the short side of Martin Brodeur - who was excellent himself Wednesday night.
The Devils failed to do what the Rangers did in the first: Answer back.
Travis Zajac scored 6:31 in off a goalmouth scramble, one of many shaky moments in the Rangers zone in the first period, but Brian Boyle's off-speed shot fooled Brodeur 47 seconds later.
"That was a big part of the first period, when we scored right back on them to keep the momentum from getting away from us," Lundqvist said. "We simplified our game a little after the first and the guys played a little more in control after that."
The Devils piled up shots, but many were just thrown on Lundqvist to try and get something going - the Devils have lost six straight games, all three with Jacques Lemaire behind the bench. They fell six points behind the Islanders (who beat the Penguins last night) in the cellar of the NHL.
"I don't think they're a bad team," Lundqvist said of the Devils. "They just lack confidence right now."
Which meant any letdown against the Devils would have hurt the Rangers far more than it would have helped a reeling team.
The Rangers have found ways to win when they struggle - Lundqvist's last 40-save performance, a 3-0 shutout over the Panthers on Nov. 26 comes to mind - and, as Dubinsky said, "That's what good teams do."
It wasn't all Lundqvist.
Michael Sauer, steady as ever, sprawled to break up a two-on-one with Jason Arnott on the doorstep in the second. Arnott, who took a lazy holding penalty and then turned it into a four-minute power play by jawing at the official in the third, then missed an open net with Lundqvist laid out on his stomach in the final three minutes.
The game wasn't cinched until Dubinsky scored into an empty net with 5.5 seconds to play, but the Rangers shored themselves up in the third. They are 16-0-0 when leading after two periods.
"It's conditioning," Tortorella said of his team, which is 9-0-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season. "The conditioning level of our team is very good. As you get successful in third periods, and in back-to-backs, you get a mentality. We said it in the room after the second: 'This is our period.' "
Even if the first two weren't exactly that way.