NEWARK, N.J. — They allowed far too many shots, so many of them dangerous. The turnovers came fast and furious. Only Henrik Lundqvist, with a season-high 45 saves — one game after facing 40 by the Anaheim Ducks — earned a point for the Rangers, whose three-game win streak ended in a shootout with a 4-3 loss to the Devils at Prudential Center on Thursday.
The one-goal game was something of a mirage because the Devils dominated most of the play. The Devils had 23 shots in the second period (38 total) while the Rangers had only 18 through two periods.
“In the first two periods, we did everything we could to lose that game,” coach Alain Vigneault said shortly after former Ranger Brian Boyle beat Lundqvist through the pads in the shootout.
“It was tough, definitely tough,” said Lundqvist. “It’s important for me to stay calm, but it’s hard at times; we just gave away the puck a lot. We’ve got to be better in a game like this with the team ahead of us. It’s good to get a point in a game where we didn’t do that many good things. The biggest thing, I think, is that they wanted it more.”
And that’s where the Rangers (19-12-4, 42 points) still remain, behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Devils (20-9-5, 45), in fourth place in the ultra-competitive division.
“Good teams find a way to get points when they don’t play their best, especially on the road in a tough place to play and the way they came out. At the same time we know, our game has to be better,” said Rick Nash.
Remarkably, the Rangers led 3-2 early in the third when Kevin Hayes broke a 2-2 tie at 1:48. Brendan Smith’s shot from the right dot banked off the end boards to Hayes at the left post. His quick shot hit Damon Severson and eluded Corey Schneider (25 saves). The Blueshirts tightened up at even-strength, but Chris Kreider’s unnecessary elbow in the offensive zone gave the Devils their fourth power play and Boyle, who was playing just his 24th game after being diagnosed with leukemia in training camp, cashed in on a backhander, with 8:06 left in regulation. The Rangers were 3-for-3 on the penalty-kill prior to that.
In overtime, the Rangers had a 4-on-3 power play with 1:08 left when Brady Skjei was hooked on a rush, but the Blueshirts couldn’t convert. Only Mika Zibanejad scored in the shootout for the Rangers, as Schneider stopped Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Shattenkirk. Kyle Palmieri scored the other goal for the Devils.
The hungrier Devils dominated the first half of the first period, controlling play and rarely allowing the Rangers past the red line. The Blueshirts didn’t have a shot on Schneider until 4:47 Nico Hischier found John Moore, trailing the play at the right circle, and he beat Lundqvist high at 7:22, prompting the netminder to angrily sweep the puck out of the cage. The Rangers, who had scored first in their three previous games, responded quickly.
With Schneider on his back during a scrum, Vesey jumped into the crease and jammed the puck past the goalie at 9:55 for the tie. Just 2:04 later, with Zibanejad jolted into the Devils bench on Miles Wood’s check, Schneider couldn’t hold onto Chris Kreider’s heavy wrister and the puck bounced at his skates. Nick Holden beat Severson to it, and put the puck past Schneider. With Palmieri in the box, Blake Coleman’s shorthanded goal off a rush with tied it again at 2 at 16:24 of the second.
But the Rangers simply couldn’t come up with the winner on a night to forget