New Jersey Devils regained a little momentum in their late-season push to solidify a playoff berth, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period on the way to a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Prudential Center on Tuesday night.
David Clarkson, Ryan Carter and Patrik Elias scored the third-period goals and Martin Brodeur turned aside 25 shots as the Devils beat their cross-river rival for the third time in five meetings this season.
The Devils completely dominated the third, scoring three goals on 10 shots, twice against Henrik Lundqvist and once into an empty net. The Rangers' All-Star goalie entered the game 11-2-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and four shutouts in his last 14 games.
Additionally, Ilya Kovalchuk snapped a nine-game goal-scoring drought and added an assist in one of his most inspiring efforts of the season.
"He was outstanding from the first goal on the first shift, right through to the end of the game," coach Peter DeBoer said of Kovalchuk, who was named the game's first star.
"He's been good all year, but on [Tuesday], you could see how pumped up he was to play," Brodeur said. "He's learned to hate [the Rangers] a little bit … he was pumped up for game and it showed on the ice."
The Devils snapped a 1-1 tie with a pair of goals in the opening five minutes of the final period. Clarkson scored the go-ahead goal at 2:27 after a shot by Petr Sykora grazed the back of his right leg and beat Lundqvist, who finished with 25 saves.
"I didn't feel the puck go off my leg," Clarkson said. "I just dropped the puck and went through to the net with my head down. You'll take those [types of goals] in a game like that.
"It was a huge win and we need to keep continuing to win, keep growing and working hard."
Carter, a fourth-line center, extended the lead to two when he converted a 2-on-1 with Jacob Josefson at 4:21 -- a play initiated off a steal at center ice by a seemingly possessed Kovalchuk.
"You could see the way he plays the game … he goes from a stop to really fast and he's a horse," Brodeur said of Kovalchuk. "He can play a shift for a minute and a-half and still have a burst of speed that will surprise people. When you are surrounded with good players, you could afford to do certain things that, maybe before, he paid a price."
Kovalchuk finished with a game-high 23:38 of ice time and eight shots.
"He's a world-class player and when he's on, you catch yourself sitting on bench watching him like a fan," Carter said. "He's the kind of guy you want wearing the same jersey as you."
Elias iced the win when he hit the empty net with 1:53 remaining after the Rangers opted to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker while trailing by two goals. Bryce Salvador assisted on the Elias' goal to register his 100th career point (23 goals, 77 assists) in 676 games.
The Rangers, though comfortably on top in the Eastern Conference with 91 points, had their 4-0-2 run ended and fell to 5-3-2 in their last 10 games.
"We got to work harder," captain Ryan Callahan said. "Right now, this time of year, everybody is battling for points and we have to find a way to go into that third period and bear down and not give up opportunities, try to create some more chances and build on our second period. I thought we had a strong second period [when the Rangers outshot the Devils, 14-7]. We started to take over, we started to get the momentum, but we didn't sustain that in the third."
The Devils, who won for only the second time in seven games (2-4-1), will now have a home-and-home with the New York Islanders -- Thursday in Newark and Saturday at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders won 1-0 on Sunday.
"I think we changed the momentum in the last five minutes of the second, when we created a lot of chances in their end on the power-play," Kovalchuk said. "That helped and we came out with energy in the third and Clarkie's goal got us going."
The Rangers pulled into a 1-1 tie 13:04 into the second when Derek Stepan snapped a shot from between the circles that beat Brodeur. Carl Hagelin did a fine job to control the puck behind the net and put the puck on Stepan's stick in the slot for a perfectly placed one-timer that caught the top left corner.
Just 24 seconds before Stepan's equalizer, Lundqvist made a fabulous stop off a tip in the slot by Adam Henrique while Zach Parise was crashing the crease. After Stepan tied it, Brodeur kept the game even when he made a stop on Ryan Callahan's point-blank snap shot with 5:25 remaining.
The Devils took the lead 49 seconds after the opening faceoff when Kovalchuk collected a pass from Parise at center ice and steamrolled into the Rangers zone, racing past a fallen Ryan McDonagh. He fired a wrist shot from between the circles that beat Lundqvist low on the glove side to snap a career-high nine-game drought without a goal.
"That was the longest I went without a goal," Kovalchuk said. "It was hard especially since we weren't doing well, so you put a little more pressure on yourself. Maybe I was over-passing sometimes, and [Tuesday] I was shooting."
A little over two minutes later, Carter tussled with Brandon Dubinsky at the Rangers' blue line, and unloaded a few big rights to the delight of the hometown faithful in the process. Dubinsky exited the game with a hand injury and did not return.
"I think starting off the game, 1-0, was a better tone-setter, but fights early on in the game can also have an impact on momentum," Carter said.
"[Carter] was a big contributor for us," DeBoer said. "He really set the tone, I thought, by fighting Dubinsky."
Kovalchuk grinned when asked to assess Carter's game.
"He did it all," he said. "Fighting, scoring and killing penalties … was good game for him."
At 12:32, the Rangers' John Scott exchanged haymakers with Cam Janssen in the second fight of the contest.
Kovalchuk almost extended the Devils' lead with six seconds left in the first and his team on the power play, but Lundqvist stopped both shots -- a one-timer from low in the left circle and ensuing rebound at the left post. Kovalchuk had five of the Devils' 11 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale