Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan pace Rangers to victory over Devils

Ryan Callahan celebrates is first-period goal during a Ryan Callahan celebrates is first-period goal during a game against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. (April 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Ryan Callahan scored twice and Derek Stepan had a goal and an assist as the Rangers won their third straight game and moved closer to the postseason with a 4-1 victory Sunday at Madison Square Garden that eliminated the Devils from the playoff hunt.

"I think we're playing the best hockey we've played all year," said Callahan, who had two early bone-jarring checks and sneaked a puck off Martin Brodeur's skate at the 34-second mark that energized the team and the Garden. "Now's the time to do it with us battling for a playoff spot and hopefully heading in."

On an 8-2-1 run, the Rangers are three points up on ninth-place Winnipeg with three games to play and tied Ottawa for seventh in points with 52, although the Senators have a game in hand. Because of the Boston bombings, their postponed game against the Bruins will be played Sunday after all other teams have finished their schedules.

The matinee win over the Devils, who knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs last spring in the Eastern Conference finals, also put the Blueshirts a point behind the sixth-place Islanders with three games to play.

"Being so close and knowing they [the Devils] probably don't like us that much, either, it's always nice to beat them," said Brad Richards, who assisted on the third and fourth goals. "They're out now, but that's not why we're playing. It's because we need to stay alive. Now we're down to nine teams, so the odds are better."

It was the third consecutive game in which the Rangers scored first, and they have won all three.

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"Cally's goal early got the building into it," Richards said. "It's probably been the best we've seen the building this year, and we just rode that. We dropped a little in the second, but Pysie [Taylor Pyatt] scored a big goal that got us back."

After Stepan tipped Ryan McDonagh's left-point shot through Brodeur's legs at the 12-minute mark of the first -- giving him his 16th goal and 40th point, tying him for the team lead -- to put the Rangers ahead 2-0, the Devils rallied. They outshot the Rangers 8-1 early in the second.

But Anton Volchenkov's poor pass was intercepted by Richards, who fed an open Pyatt for a high one-timer from the slot. Pyatt, acquired as a free agent in the offseason, hadn't scored in 26 games.

"You kind of take their will out of it there," McDonagh said. "They were coming in the second period, putting us in our own zone. He puts it in the twine. It kind of carries us through the rest of the game."

The Rangers have 18 goals in three games, and Pyatt noted: "The confidence comes back and everyone feels a little bit better about themselves."

Callahan chipped a rebound of Richards' shot over a face-down Brodeur at 5:13 of the third and Andrei Loktionov spoiled the shutout for Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves), beating him at 13:30 of the third period.

The Rangers (24-17-4) play the next two on the road, at Florida and Carolina, and close the season at the Garden against the Devils on Saturday. Asked if he thinks the team is peaking at the right time, president and general manager Glen Sather smiled and said, "We've got a ways to go."

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