NEWARK - In a critical game in which the Rangers had battled back three times to tie the score, the Devils had just netted two more to lead 5-3 at the end of the second period. Henrik Lundqvist had been pulled and the defense was in disarray.
As the Rangers filed into the dressing room after 40 minutes of allowing odd-man rushes and repeated inability to clear pucks out of the zone, captain Chris Drury stood up on the bench and smashed his stick in two.
The show of emotion didn't little to rouse the Blueshirts, who flubbed their third power play of the night to open the third. Martin Brodeur was solid when he need to be and sent them to a 6-3 loss last night, their fourth straight (0-2-2).
Three of the five goals Lundqvist allowed were deflections. "I guess I could play a little more aggressive, I tried to be square, but the puck was hitting our guys, their guys, and some pucks just found their way in," he said.
The Rangers, still outside the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 15 games to play, displayed a strong defense in the previous two games against Washington and Buffalo, but crumpled at the Prudential Center. They allowed far too many odd-man rushes and repeatedly failed to clear the area in front of Lundqvist, who was victimized by deflections and redirections by both the Devils and his own teammates.
Lundqvist, who had posted a record of 16-3-5 with a 1.43 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage in 24 matchups against Brodeur, allowed the five goals on 17 shots before being relieved by Alex Auld at 15:19 of the second.
With the score tied at 3 at 9:15 of the second on Brandon Prust's goal - the third time that the Rangers had rallied to erase a one-goal lead - the roof fell in. Jamie Langenbrunner deflected the puck past Lundqvist at 13:06 and then on a 3-on-1 break, with Dan Girardi falling and crawling on his knees, Brian Rolston's shot went through Lundqvist's legs and he was pulled.
"We had some missed assignments, but we were right in the game," Girardi said. "We got three goals, so it's disappointing. I thought it was closer than the score looked."
The Devils had taken a 2-1 lead into the second period. Erik Christensen deked around Patrik Elias in a highlight-reel move and roofed a shot over Brodeur at 5:01. But on a power play three minutes later, with Wade Redden off for hooking, the Rangers couldn't control the puck around the crease and Zach Parise glided in for a backhander to restore the lead, 3-2.
Said coach John Tortorella: "We played in spurts, as we've done most of the year. We've been inconsistent and it was the same thing tonight. The fifth goal was a big turn, where we don't even get a shot on an odd-man rush, and they score a goal on an odd-man rush. And then they just clamped down."