NEW YORK (AP) -Devils coach Brent Sutter was fuming mad, and Sean Avery had nothing to do with riling him up.
New Jersey lost 3-0 to the New York Rangers on Monday night, the Atlantic Division leaders' season-high fifth straight defeat. Avery did plenty to agitate several Devils, but it was their play that really sent the usually dour Sutter over the edge.
"I expect more from this group," Sutter said. "There are periods of time when everything is great and then they get into a comfort zone."
New Jersey has already clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs and leads Philadelphia by six points in the Atlantic. The Devils are one point behind Washington in the race for the No. 2 seed in back of Boston.
Just a few days earlier, New Jersey had its sights set on tracking down the Bruins, but the five-game skid (0-4-1) and a rut of six losses in seven games (1-5-1) have pretty much dashed those hopes.
The Rangers outshot the Devils 20-10 in the scoreless first period and then netted three goals on 12 shots in the decisive second frame.
"Don't you want to finish second in your conference?" Sutter asked rhetorically. "Don't you want home-ice advantage if you advance past the first round? Don't you want to play with pride and have your game at the top of your level? You can't turn a switch on. This group tried to turn a switch on last year. It didn't work. They can say they're a different group, but a lot of the personnel is still the same.
"You get to a point where you say, 'Where is our commitment? Where is our compete level? How can a team dominate you as badly as they did in the first period?"
The Devils lost in the first round of last year's playoffs to the Rangers, and Avery was a big reason why. He frustrated and annoyed Martin Brodeur, even getting a rule changed for face-guarding and waving his stick in front of the goalie to block his vision during Game 3 of the five-game series.
Avery matched up against Brodeur on Monday for the second time this season, but first since coming back to the Rangers after a failed stint with Dallas. The interaction between the two was minimal, though Brodeur did catch Avery in the face with his stick during one early play in front.
New Jersey targeted Avery for hits before and after the whistle, they just couldn't get him to lose his cool.
David Clarkson took a double roughing penalty and was given a misconduct in the third period after yanking Avery around like a rag doll and pulling him down to the ice when the Rangers forward refused to drop his gloves and fight.
"I was trying to spark the team," Clarkson said. "He had one hand cocked back. If he throws the punch and hits me, I'm the guy that loses. Then I'm the one who winds up getting kicked out. I'm sure they didn't want me going after him again so they kicked me out.
"I don't know if it's irritating. They won the game. He didn't want to fight. I'm not going to say anything bad about the guy. He obviously did his job."
Avery has had a few fights since rejoining the Rangers this month, he just didn't see a reason to take on Clarkson with the Rangers ahead 3-0 and not much time left.
"I don't think that there's anything to gain by doing anything at that point," Avery said. "It certainly takes discipline for sure. You fight for your team and for your teammates. At that point I didn't need to fight for either of them."
Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Dan Girardi scored 2:04 apart during New York's three-goal second period. Ryan Callahan added his 21st goal for the Rangers, who bounced back from a disappointing 0-1-1 road trip and moved within a point of sixth-place Pittsburgh in the Eastern playoff race.
Henrik Lundqvist made 38 saves for his third shutout of the season and 20th in his four-year NHL career. He is 18-6-4 against Brodeur, who faced the Rangers for only the second time this season because of an elbow injury that forced him to miss 50 games.
"It gives you an extra good feeling to play against the best players in the league," Lundqvist said.
New York (40-28-9) also stretched its lead to four points over Florida, which is below the postseason cutoff. The Rangers reached 40 wins for the fourth straight season, the second time in franchise history they have done that (1970-71 to 1973-74).
"We're still fighting for our lives," coach John Tortorella said. "We are just trying to find a way to get points."
At Calgary, Alberta, Jonathan Cheechoo scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and Evgeni Nabokov made 28 saves to lead San Jose.
Dan Boyle also scored and Joe Thornton had two assists as the Sharks reached 50 wins for the second time in franchise history and moved four points ahead of Detroit in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
Jarome Iginla got Calgary even late in the first period with his 32nd goal.
At Glendale, Ariz., Petr Prucha scored 53 seconds into overtime to lift Phoenix.
Prucha took a pass from Shane Doan at the top right corner of the crease and shoved the puck past goalie Tobias Stephan for a power-play goal just 16 seconds after Andrew Hutchinson was whistled for tripping.
Enver Lisin and Scottie Upshall scored two goals apiece, and Doan added his team-leading 29th goal for the Coyotes.
Brendan Morrison, Hutchinson, Darryl Sydor, Chris Conner and Loui Eriksson scored for the Stars, who have lost seven straight.
|Brandon Dubinsky (11) ASST: Dan Girardi (17), Fredrik Sjostrom (6)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Chris Drury (20) ASST: Dan Girardi (18), Nik Antropov (30)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Ryan Callahan (21) ASST: Scott Gomez (40), Sean Avery (13)|
3 - 0 NYR
|Travis Zajac Hooking against Marc Staal|
|Nik Antropov Roughing against Colin White|
|Colin White Roughing against Nik Antropov|
|Bobby Holik Roughing against Scott Gomez|
|Scott Gomez Roughing against Bobby Holik|
|Mike Mottau Tripping against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Mike Rupp Roughing against Marc Staal|
|Nikolay Zherdev Hooking against Johnny Oduya|
|Brendan Shanahan Roughing against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Fredrik Sjostrom Roughing against Brendan Shanahan|
|David Clarkson Misconduct|
|Sean Avery Roughing against David Clarkson|
|David Clarkson Roughing against Sean Avery|
|David Clarkson Roughing against Sean Avery|
|Paul Mara Cross checking against Travis Zajac|
|Mike Rupp Roughing against Sean Avery|