New Jersey Devils' Cam Janssen, right, fights with New York...

New Jersey Devils' Cam Janssen, right, fights with New York Rangers' John Scott during the first period. (March 6, 2012) Credit: AP

NEWARK -- Desire. Intensity.

According to the Rangers, the Devils had it. They didn't.

New Jersey scored three third-period goals to finish off the mistake-prone, first-place Rangers, 4-1, at Prudential Center Tuesday night.

"They played like they wanted to win," Brian Boyle said. "They hated us tonight and wanted to kill us. We need to match that."

The Rangers not only couldn't match the Devils, who are 12 points behind them in the Atlantic Division, on the scoreboard, they fell short on emotion.

"We've got to get our desperation back, be like those guys," Brad Richards said after the loss, only the 16th in regulation in 66 games for the Rangers. "You blink and we'll be where they are."

Not even the return of captain Ryan Callahan, who wore extra protection on his boot to protect a bruised and swollen right foot that had kept him sidelined for the previous three games, could spark the Blueshirts, who had taken five of a possible six points with Callahan sidelined. It was the Rangers' first regulation loss since a 2-0 defeat in Pittsburgh eight games ago.

"We had a good second period, but that was it. We can't get comfortable," Mike Rupp said. "We haven't been playing the way we should in the last few games."

To which coach John Tortorella added: "It catches up with you."

With the score tied at 1 after 40 minutes, the Devils exploded for two goals 1:54 apart early in the third period and sealed it with an empty-netter by Patrik Elias at 18:07.

David Clarkson dropped a pass to Petr Sykora between defensemen Steve Eminger and Michael Del Zotto. Sykora, who was honored for playing 1,000 games before the puck dropped at Prudential Center, fired and hit Clarkson's leg enough to elude Henrik Lundqvist at 2:27 of the third. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had opened the scoring just 49 seconds into the game, fed Jacob Josefson on a two-on-one, and he found Ryan Carter at 4:21 for the two-goal lead.

Carter had quite the evening. He fought Brandon Dubinsky at 3:03 in the first; Dubinsky, on his second shift, injured his hand in the bout and did not return to the game, leaving the Rangers a forward short.

In a first period that felt more like two hours than 20 minutes, the Devils led 1-0 after 49 seconds. Marian Gaborik (minus-3 on the night) turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Derek Stepan skated past it and Ryan McDonagh fell as Kovalchuk -- the best player on the ice all night -- broke across the blue line and beat Lundqvist low glove side. Lundqvist made 26 saves, some of them brilliant, to keep the Blueshirts close.

Carl Hagelin's battle behind the net led to the tying goal at 6:56. The Swedish rookie's pass in front deflected off Zach Parise and Stepan one-timed the puck under the crossbar for his 15th of the season and second in two games.

But the Rangers, who didn't look like a team that is 15-5-3 in their previous 23 games, couldn't get a lead against Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves. Was it a wake-up call, Lundqvist was asked. "We'll see how we respond," he said.

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