NEWARK, N.J.---One team’s superstar winger came up with a big moment; the other was bottled up, along with his team.
Henrik Lundqvist had one lapse, unable to stop a second-period breakaway by Ilya Kovalchuk that turned out to be the game-winner as the Rangers were blanked 1-0 by the Devils and goaltender Johan Hedberg. It was the fourth time the Rangers were shut out this season.
The Rangers, who had won two straight, were held to a season-low 16 shots and could not derail the Devils, on an 8-0-1 run here at Prudential Center, have won six in a row and have points in 16 of the last 17 games. "We were a step slow all night," said coach John Tortorella. "It was the whole group, but Hank gave us a chance to win. He was our best player tonight."
The decisive play came in the second period, when defenseman Marc Staal couldn’t control a puck with his skate that Anton Volchenkov sent around the boards to the right point. Kovalchuk swooped in and sped down ice toward Lundqvist. Without a fake, he rifled a shot just inside the right post at 8:18 for the 1-0 lead. For Kovalchuk, who has scored in four straight games, It was his 21st goal.
"The bounce got to the wrong player. I tried to be patient, but he just beat me," said Lundqvist, who finished with 27 saves. "It's tough when you face a guy like that who's coming in a hundred miles an hour." Later in the period, Kovalchuk almost beat Lundqvist again when he curled in from the right boards, stickhandled past Artem Anisimov and around Ryan Callahan and rang a shot off the right post with 2:55 left.
The Rangers, meanwhile, who expended an incredible amount of energy in the 4-3 shootout win over Los Angeles at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, could not solve the trapping Devils defense. "I don't think we had an odd-man rush all night," Staal said.
Kovalchuk, skating hard all night, had five shots and five other attempts. The Rangers' top scorer last season, Marian Gaborik, who had zero shots in 18:04, was blanketed, as were the rest of the Blueshirts, who had scored eight goals in the last two games.
At the start of the third period, the Rangers generated some early chances. Callahan’s shot hit the post behind Hedberg, and trickled across the line and under the goaltender. They also tried to be more physical with Kovalchuk, with both Callahan and Dan Girardi combining on a check at the benches. But the Devils steadied midway through the period and continued to outshoot the Rangers 25-13.
Kovalchuk's baseball swing at a high puck caught Wojtek Wolski in the face at 9:51 and the Rangers had their second power play, but shots missed or didn't reach the net.
Meanwhile, the Devils, who Lundqvist described as a much more confident team than earlier in the season, kept their line changes short and kept the puck out of their zone. Lundqvist was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:15 left to no avail.
The tone was set soon after the puck dropped. The Devils dominated the first period, controlling the tempo with Kovalchuk flying and the game scoreless because Lundqvist, making his fourth straight start, was superb, both in positioning and reaction to deflections. He made 12 saves, including a superb stop on Kovalchuk’s blast after he was bumped by Nick Palmieri and lost his stick at 7:12. Lundqvist turned away Travis Zajac’s torpedo and denied Mattias Tedenby’s jam-in. The best chance for the Rangers came very early, as Hedberg stopped Mats Zuccarello, but was out of position and Erik Christensen missed the empty net from about 10 feet away.
Notes & Quotes
Sean Avery hasn’t scored in 17 games; Christensen 11, Zuccarello 12 and Wolski, 10. …The Rangers are now 10-5 in the second games of back-to-backs…Opponents have scored the first goal in 11 of the last 12 games...The Rangers (31-25-4) fell to 17-13-1 on the road and face the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers on Sunday.