NEWARK, N.J. -- The Rangers are one step closer to earning the right to enjoy their holiday weekend away from the ice.
Steps two and three will come later this week when the Islanders and Flyers come to Madison Square Garden, but Tuesday at Prudential Center they got over a fairly sizable hurdle in the form of a Devils team that had won four in a row and six of their previous seven games heading into the first of six showdowns this season between the cross-river rivals.
Marian Gaborik scored off a rebound early in the third period and Henrik Lundqvist put on a first-star performance with 30 saves to lead the Rangers to a 4-1 victory against the Devils. New York won its second straight to pull within two points of the idle Flyers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
"It was a good, gritty win," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It wasn't solid right on through. We didn't do everything right at certain times, but we stayed with it. So, I really liked the grit of the game."
The Rangers had to have a short memory and the wherewithal to stick with the plan Tuesday because it didn't start out well for them.
The Devils controlled the first half of the game with a 1-0 lead and a 17-6 advantage in shots on goal thanks in part to their aggressive forecheck. The Rangers also found iron on shots twice in the first 12 minutes of the second period with Derek Stepan hitting the crossbar and Ryan Callahan putting a redirect of Brad Richards' pass directly off the left post.
However, it was Callahan's effort on his shot that hit the post that helped turn the momentum in the game.
After spending the first 30-plus minutes playing on the outside in the offensive zone and letting the Devils forecheck get the better of them in the defensive zone, Callahan, the Rangers' captain, drove to the net and nearly came up with a goal.
Artem Anisimov followed Callahan's lead, and his redirect of Stepan's pass with 2:32 to play in the second period did not hit anything accept the back of the net as the Rangers tied the game at 1-1.
Anisimov raced from end to end, with his eyes fixated on the net. He got behind Zach Parise and in position to one-time Stepan's pass out of the corner. Gaborik actually took a huge hit from Anton Volchenkov in front of the penalty boxes as he delivered the puck to Stepan, who took it into the right corner before finding Anisimov dashing toward the crease.
"I just go to the net," Anisimov said. "Good things can happen when you go to the net."
That's how Gaborik scored the winning goal, too.
Anisimov got the puck in the right circle and took it low before shooting a backhand that hit Martin Brodeur and then the crossbar. The puck dropped into the left side of the blue paint and Gaborik was able to reach out his stick and get a piece of it to shovel it over the goal line with 5:15 to play.
Brodeur was still stuck on the other side. He didn't have a chance at stopping Gaborik, who wouldn't have had the chance to score had he not skated toward the net.
"Especially in the second period, we talked about how we had to throw some shots on him and that's how we created chances," Gaborik said. "We talked about how we had to drive the net, and Cally hit the post there with his speed. That's how we got going. We jammed the net and got those rebounds."
Before the Rangers were able to turn the momentum, Lundqvist was busy saving them on the other end. He had 19 saves after two periods and was beaten only by Travis Zajac on a rebound goal. He picked up 11 more saves in the third period to earn the Broadway Hat that the Rangers give out to the team MVP after each win.
"No team is going to win unless your goaltender is there. Our goaltending this year has been there right on through," Tortorella said. "We're certainly not looking to take more chances because we have him back there, but at key times, especially in that third period, he made some key saves when we had some breakdowns.
"The boys gave him that ugly hat and he deserves it."
Carl Hagelin gave the Rangers the insurance goal they needed when scored off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with 5:18 to play. Gaborik scored his 19th goal of the season into the empty net at 19:56 to cap the scoring.
Despite the loss and how clearly the Rangers took over the game in the second half, Devils coach Pete DeBoer said he felt his team played better Tuesday than at any point during their recent winning stretch. They were playing without leading scorer Patrik Elias (illness) and defenseman Henrik Tallinder (back spasms).
"It's frustrating definitely that we lost," DeBoer said. "I take a lot of solace in the fact that I thought we played a heck of a game. I thought for us having a shortened lineup, we played a heck of a game."
The Rangers felt they played a heck of a second half, but that's all they needed to clear the first of three important steps before Christmas.
The Islanders are up next on Thursday before the Flyers come in for the final meeting between the teams before they face each other at Citizens Bank Park in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2.
"We know these are three conference games before we break for Christmas, and we talked about that as far as putting this in a capsule," Tortorella said. "We have four days. We had a good day in Day 1. We need a good Day 2, and then we have a couple of interesting games coming up after that. It's a good way for us to try to finish and get a couple of days off at Christmas, and do it the right way."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
1 - 0 NJD
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYR
3 - 1 NYR
4 - 1 NYR
Misconduct (10 min)
Misconduct (10 min)
Holding the stick