But 53 seconds into the third period, Dan Girardi snapped the tie and the Rangers started to roll. Girardi, Chris Kreider and Artem Anisimov each had a goal and an assist in the final period and Henrik Lundqvist posted his fifth postseason shutout as the Rangers beat the Devils, 3-0.
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With relentless forechecking, the Devils had caused turnovers in the Rangers' zone, forced numerous icings and came close to taking the lead on deflections, but they couldn't solve Lundqvist, who had 21 saves.
Girardi's goal turned the tide. Kreider had the puck along the right boards in the offensive zone, waited and dropped a pass to Girardi, who had raced through the neutral zone, and Derek Stepan went to the net to screen Martin Brodeur. The defenseman's slapper was his second goal of the playoffs.
"I got it and looked up ice and knew that both teams were changing," said Kreider, the rookie out of Boston College. "He was calling for it, coming straight off the bench. I was able to make eye contact and lay it out there for him."
The Devils almost tied it a minute later. Ilya Kovalchuk, dangerous all night with 11 attempts, one-timed a shot from the lower left circle, but Lundqvist darted over to smother it. Brodeur, who made 29 saves, had to dive across to glove Marc Staal's uncontested wrister from the left circle at about the 10-minute mark.
With the score still 1-0, Steve Bernier was whistled for boarding at 10:24 and the Rangers, 0-for-3 on the power play and 9-for-60 in the playoffs, had a chance to salt it away. They did.
Kreider, coming down the left side, fired a high-glove wrister on a sweet lead pass from Anisimov, and the crowd, delirious after Girardi's goal, exploded again.
"He's got a lethal shot, and if he gets a second to get it off, scary things can happen,'' Ryan McDonagh said. "We just told him to keep moving his legs and get in on the forecheck."
McDonagh's own speed disrupted two breakaways from behind, first on Zach Parise, then on Kovalchuk coming down from the left side at 9:12 of the first period.
Anisimov's empty-netter sealed it with 1:27 left.
"It changes a team's game when you're playing from behind, so we were able to be more aggressive on them," said Staal, who had five of the Rangers' 26 blocked shots, as did Girardi. "They had a lot of pressure on us, we didn't have time to make plays, but we got out of it without getting hurt."
The Rangers have taken Game 1 in three straight series. They have won seven of the eight series in which they won the opener.
The Devils, who last faced the Rangers in the postseason in 2008 and lost in five games, came in with some firepower, averaging three goals and 32.3 shots per game. But they couldn't dent Lundqvist. He also shut out the Senators in Game 3 of the conference quarterfinals with a 39-save effort.
"He's a competitive guy and I don't think it has to do with Brodeur," Brian Boyle said. "I don't think he needs any more motivation."
At 14:05 of the second period, Zach Parise had three shots in three seconds near the left post. Save, save, save.
"The opportunities, they were definitely there," Parise said. "We had some right in front . . . We played well for 40 minutes; that last 20, we let it slip away a little bit and they took advantage. That's the game right there."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer warned not to count the Devils out.
"We've been in this spot before," he said. "We were down 1-0 to Philly. We know how to handle this."