NEWARK---This quote from Devils coach Peter DeBoer summed it up.
"I think the guys in this room decided to empty the tank. We knew this was an importnat two points."
According to the Rangers, the Devils had it. They didn’t, and New Jersey scored three third-period goals to finish off the mistake-prone, first-place Rangers, 4-1 at Prudential Center.
“They played like they wanted to win,” said Brian Boyle. “They hated us tonight and wanted to kill us. We need to match that.”
The Rangers not only couldn’t match the Devils, who emain 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” said Brad Richards 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 boots to protect a bruised and swollen right foot that had kept him sidelined for the last 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,” said Mike Rupp. “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, who had five of the six games, 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, playing his first game in the last seven, 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 2 on 1, 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 year and second in two games.
But the Rangers, who didn’t look like a team who is 15-5-3 in their last 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.