NEWARK, N.J. -- In a game that featured a little bit of everything, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist proved to be the one constant in leading his team to victory against the New Jersey Devils.
Lundqvist, who was making his fifth start in eight days and second in as many nights, turned in a splendid performance with 29 saves as the Rangers earned an entertaining 3-2 triumph Tuesday before 17,625 fans at Prudential Center.
"That's a big win, especially in a back-to-back against a team that was two points ahead of us in the standings," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "It was important to come in here and get the win, and Hank always seems to be there for us when we need him."
The Rangers took their third lead of the game 7:25 into the second period when Rick Nash scored his team-leading 10th of the season off a wicked wrist shot from the right circle that beat Devils goalie Johan Hedberg to the long side.
"I think we caught them on a bad line change and [Michael] Del Zotto made a great play up the ice to send me and [Brad] Richards on a 2-on-1," Nash said. "Their defenseman [Peter Harrold] was kind of cheating for the pass, so I got to shoot."
That goal proved to be the difference as the Rangers buckled down defensively, yielding just seven shots in the third period after allowing 24 through the first two.
"I just didn't think we were doing enough on the walls," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of his team's performance in the first 40 minutes. "Going into the third, we wanted to continue to pressure but we weren't doing enough and were losing battles along the wall. But I'm not going to pick it apart … we've played a lot of hockey here and did some really good things."
Nash's goal was made possible after a series of spectacular saves by Lundqvist at the other end. With the Devils on the power play, Lundqvist denied Ilya Kovalchuk off a blistering shot from between the circles at 6:53 before stoning Steve Bernier and Alexei Ponikarovsky on consecutive rebound attempts 10 seconds later.
"I thought we stuck with it and Hank makes three great saves and we go down and score," Tortorella said.
Hedberg, who was making a personal-best 13th straight start, made 19 saves in defeat for the Devils.
The Devils were given a golden opportunity to square the game at 9:03 of the third when Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger was whistled for tripping, but Lundqvist stopped a pair of point shots by Kovalchuk to keep the visitors in front.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer opted to pull Hedberg with 1:39 left in the third, but New Jersey could not generate a quality scoring chance.
"When we don't get the first goal, we're chasing the game the rest of the night," DeBoer said. "The effort was there, but it's been there almost every night. We have to translate that into points and that's the bottom line. A lot of that for us is starting strong and getting the first goal."
Despite outshooting their opponents in 11 straight games, the Devils have been outscored 33-21 during that stretch while going 3-6-2.
The victory by the Rangers was their second in a row following three straight defeats. It moved them into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 15 wins and 32 points. The Devils dropped one spot to ninth with 13 wins and 32 points.
"I think we feel comfortable with the lead; [Tuesday's game] shows how important it is to get the lead and kind of control the game and not chase," Lundqvist said. "You try to play with a short memory since games come up so fast. Sometimes, you can't tell why it turns around for you, but you just have to keep working hard."
The second period was also highlighted by a bizarre play three minutes in when Devils center Travis Zajac was skating hard to the net while being closely guarded by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. When Girardi skated past Lundqvist at the right post, he caught his goalie with his left elbow. Lundqvist immediately fell to the ice while Zajac was whistled for interference.
"At first you don't know what happened because you don't see it coming, so you regroup and figure out what just happened and then you feel the pain," Lundqvist said. "It was more the snap of my neck than the actual hit to the head that kind of bothers me."
The Devils opened the third period short a player after Ponikarovsky exited the game at 14:25 of the second and did not return. DeBoer said he would know more on Wednesday as to the extent of Ponikarovsky's injury.
The teams, each entering the game averaging fewer than 2.5 goals per game, combined for four in the opening 20 minutes.
Anton Volchenkov's first goal of the season off a rocket from the left point deflected off Rangers center Jeff Halpern and went past Lundqvist to pull the Devils into a 2-2 tie to close out the barrage at 17:13. Just 23 seconds earlier, Carl Hagelin had given the Rangers their second lead of the game when he took a perfect carom off the end boards from a Girardi attempt from the right point and beat Hedberg from the bottom of the left circle.
"We're not really a run-and-gun team, so any time we get into that type of game, we have to take a step back and take a deep breath and realize what makes us successful … it's defense first," Del Zotto said. "We did a good job blocking shots and Hank was standing on his head again. Those were two huge two points."
The Rangers finished the game with 15 blocked shots, including a team-high three by Halpern.
Zajac scored his first goal in 11 games at 15:15 when the Devils evened the score 1-1 on the power play.
The Rangers opened the scoring 11:49 into the first in a most unusual fashion.
First, Kovalchuk thought he had opened the scoring at 10:35 when his blast from the left point deflected off the knob of Lundqvist's stick before hitting the left post.
The Rangers then responded 1:14 later with a shorthanded goal. Hedberg came far out of his crease along the boards to strip the puck from Stepan, but his clearing attempt to Harrold in the zone was stolen by Stepan. The center controlled the puck in the right corner and centered a pass through the crease that Del Zotto chopped out of the air into the net at the left post.
"We developed a lot of chances [in a 2-1 shootout victory over Carolina on Monday] and didn't finish," Tortorella said. "[Against New Jersey], Michael joined in there although I have no idea what happened along the wall, and Carl banked one in. It's four points on two big wins."
Hedberg, who has started every game in Martin Brodeur's absence, is 3-8-2 in his stretch of 13 straight starts.
Brodeur told reporters earlier in the day he expects to make his first start since Feb. 21 when the Devils travel to Carolina on Thursday. Brodeur, who has been sidelined with a pinched nerve in his neck/upper back that was causing numbness in his shoulder and arm, hasn't played since making 19 saves in a 3-2 victory against the Washington Capitals.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mikemorrealeNHL
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