NEWARK — Talk about table-setters.
With the Islanders coming into Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, the Rangers were stretched to the limit by their other area rival on Tuesday.
For the third time this season, the Rangers and Devils went to overtime. The Devils Joe Blandisi ended a game in which some bad blood boiled late in the second period by scoring on a 2-on-1 with 54.6 seconds left in overtime for a 3-2 victory at Prudential Center.
For the struggling Devils, who were on a 1-10-2 slide and essentially eliminated from the playoffs, it was a huge lift, especially for their young players.
With a third-period goal that sent the game to overtime, the Rangers gained a point and trimmed their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to seven.
After a sluggish first 35 minutes, a brawl at the end of the second period seemed to ignite the Rangers, said J.T. Miller. “Everyone laid their bodies on the line. And I think we should feel good after the third period (when Rick Nash tied the game on a power play and the Rangers forced Cory Schneider to stop 16 other shots). We’ll be ready to play.”
Coach Alain Vigneault expects another battle on Wednesday night at the Garden with the Islanders in a race for the second wild card with Toronto and Tampa Bay.
“It’s the Islanders, they’re always tough games,” he said. “This is New York. We’re trying to work on getting that checkmark (signifying clinching a post-season spot) by our name and they’re trying to do the same thing.”
The majority of the first two periods was scoreless, disjointed match, filled with neutral zone turnovers, icings and ineffective power plays. But in the last five minutes of the second period, the fire started, and spread:
There were three goals in just over three minutes and then three fights, with the brawl triggering 32 minutes in penalties, including 17 minutes to Devils rookie Miles Wood, who charged down the ice to pummel Nick Holden after he had leveled him with a shoulder check along the boards. “He didn’t like the hit, and he did what he thought was appropriate,” said Vigneault. Jimmy Vesey and Blake Cameron wrestled and Nick Lappin tussled with Brendan Smith.
The goals had come before the fisticuffs. With 4:44 left and the Devils on their third power play of the night, rookie John Quenneville snuck in front the left point to deposit a pass from Blandisi behind Antti Raanta at 15:16.
Pavel Buchnevich’s backhand pass from behind the net found Oscar Lindberg, whose shot bounced under Schneider, who finished with 38 saves, to make it 1-1 at 16:53. Taylor Hall then ripped one off the left post to restore the Devils lead at 18:22. The fights broke out with 16.2 seconds left.
On the first shift on the power play with Wood banished in the third, Derek Stepan wired a shot off the crossbar and then Kevin Hayes fed Nash for a shot through Schneider’s pads at 1:12. Each team traded surges and Mats Zuccarello hit the post from the right circle off a faceoff.
In overtime, after Schneider had stopped Michael Grabner and Hayes, Ryan McDonagh’s shot missed wide, caromed out and the Devils came down for Blandisi’s finisher. “We had so many chances,” said Raanta. “But today, they used their chances.”