By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
Eleven months ago the New Jersey Devils ended the Rangers season on Adam Henrique's overtime goal in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals. Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden the Rangers gained a measure of revenge as their 4-1 victory over the Devils officially eliminated New Jersey from playoff contention with one week remaining in the 2013 regular season.
And while the Rangers have not clinched a playoff berth of their own just yet, they moved another step closer on Sunday by winning their third straight game and upping their record over their last 11 games to 8-2-1. Now with 52 points on the season, the Rangers have pulled even with the Ottawa Senators for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, though Ottawa does have a game in hand on New York. The Rangers are three points clear of the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets with each team still having three games remaining on their schedule.
Henrik Lundqvist came with 6 minutes 30 seconds of posting his second shutout of the season---and seventh all-time against the Devils---but Andrei Loktionov scored off the rush from left wing at 13:30 of the third period. Lundqvist finished with 26 saves, while Ryan Callahan scored twice on Sunday for the Rangers, who now have totaled 18 goals in their last three games. Brad Richards contributed a pair of assists.
Facing a desperate opponent which had won two games in a row, including a 6-2 whipping of the Florida Panthers in New Jersey on Saturday, the Rangers pounced on the Devils and scored just 34 seconds into the game. With Carl Hagelin leading an impressive opening-shift forecheck, the Rangers forced a turnover behind the Devils net, and an alert Callahan quickly shoveled the puck off the skate of an unaware Martin Brodeur and over the goal line for his 13th goal of the season and an early 1-0 lead for the home team.
The Rangers continued to swarm the Devils after Callahan's goal, and at the 12-minute mark of the first period they scored again to put New Jersey in an unenviable two-goal hole. Derek Stepan, who earned an assist on Callahan's score, skated through the slot and perfectly redirected Ryan McDonagh's shot past Brodeur for his 16th goal after the Blueshirts had controlled the puck at will in the visitors' end of the ice.
Callahan delivered a pair of thunderous hits of Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov, and Dan Girardi delivered a monster shoulder hit on Matt D'Agostini which leveled the Devils forward as the Rangers controlled virtually every aspect of the game in the opening period. The only area they struggled was on the power play, where New Jersey killed off four opportunities for the home team in the game's opening stanza.
The Devils took control of the game early in the second period and had the Rangers playing on their heels with a strong forecheck of their own in the opening minutes. But Lundqvist was rock solid---and even spectacular in stoning Loktionov on the doorstep with a sharp left-pad save---before his team eventually found its footing again.
A Volchenkov turnover in his own end of the ice helped doom the Devils 11:56 into the second period when Richards collected the puck and fed into the slot where Taylor Pyatt roofed his fifth goal of the season---and first in 27 games---over the gloved hand of Brodeur. Pyatt, who was playing in his 800th NHL game, now has a three-game point streak (1-2-3), as does Richards (4-3-7) who assisted on the goal and another one to come.
Less than a minute later Lundqvist kept it a three-goal Rangers lead with a sensational burst across the crease to deny Travis Zajac's slam-dunk one-timer.
Callahan scored his second of the game, and 14th of the season, 5:13 into the third period to up the Rangers lead to 4-0. Skating on the power play, Richards spearheaded some quick puck movement which finished when Brodeur attempted a pokecheck, but Callahan---to the side of the net---was able to chip the puck enough over the diving Brodeur and into the cage. Callahan, who now has a four-game point streak (3-3-6), recorded his second multi-goal game of the season.