Rookie defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy each scored against Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, and Gilroy's tally late in the second period proved to be the difference in the Rangers' 3-2 win in front of a sellout crowd of 17,625 at Prudential Center.
Gilroy moved down from the right point and took a superb pass from Vinny Prospal that was slightly redirected by Marian Gaborik and drove a slap shot along the ice and through Brodeur.
"I was kind of surprised how big of a lane it was," Gilroy said of the time and space he had on the winning goal. "He came out with his 5-hole kind of open weird and I knew he was coming across and I thought I could sneak it under."
Turns out Brodeur was just as surprised with Gilroy's shot as Gilroy was with Brodeur's positioning.
"I thought he would hammer it, but he didn't actually shoot as hard as I thought and it kind of went through me," Brodeur said.
There was nothing Brodeur could've done to stop Del Zotto's power-play goal that tied the game at 1-all in the first period. A Prospal shot ricocheted right to Del Zotto at the top of the left circle, and he took his time and buried the puck in the wide-open net.
"It was one of my easiest goals. Hopefully I'll have a few more of those in my career," Del Zotto said with a laugh. "I wanted to make sure. The ice wasn't the greatest in the world right there. The puck was spinning about a million miles an hour so I had to settle it down."
The Rangers' second goal, a one-time blast from the point by Kotalik, was far from pedestrian, but it was the type of shot Brodeur has routinely stopped during his Hall-of-Fame career.
"Not much of a good look on that one, it was just a really hard shot," Brodeur said. "That's as hard as a shot that someone can let go from that spot and I was right there, moving across and it went right over my pad and in."
The 2009-10 version of this cross-river rivalry got off to a fast start thanks to some early sloppy play by the Rangers and ill-timed penalties by the Devils.
Rob Niedermayer, younger brother of former Devils great Scott Niedermayer, scored his first goal as a Devil just 70 seconds into the first period. He took a feed from Jay Pandolfo, who drew two defenders to him behind the net, and ripped a wrister from the slot over the glove of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to give the Devils a 1-0 lead just 70 seconds into the game.
"I just saw us watching people play," Tortorella said when asked why he used his timeout less than two minutes into the game. "Off a rush, we watched people go to the net. We watch them rotate out of the corner. We watched people go to the net again. We get absolutely beat out of the corner without any effort at all.
"We had a pretty good first shift, but I was just shocked as far as how we were playing in our end zone, watching people play."
It didn't take long for the Rangers to get the message.
Del Zotto's power-play goal came just five minutes later, and after Travis Zajac scored a beautiful power-play goal off a no-look pass from David Clarkson, the Rangers responded in quick fashion with Kotalik's tying goal.
The first-period shootout turned into a muck-and-grind game for the final 40 minutes. The Devils held the Rangers, who like to play an up-and-down, fast-paced game, to just 12 scoring chances in the contest. Tortorella saw the positives in the Rangers proving they can win dirty.
"It's tough not to play their type of game," Tortorella said. "They play it so well. It's tough to get through the neutral zone clean with the puck. For the third game of the year, I think it's important to win a type of game like this. I was really encouraged in the third period when I think everyone chipped in. Our fourth line gave us some tremendous shifts in the third period.
"It's very important to find a way to win this type of game this early, this way."
The Devils had a chance to tie the game early in the third period when they had a 5-on-3 advantage for 26 seconds, but for the third time in two games this season, they were unable to convert with a two-man advantage.
"I think it's something we definitely have to work on. When you get a team down at this level, that's what it's all about," Clarkson said of the Devils' 5-on-3 struggles. "You have to bury those chances."
Lundqvist settled down after a shaky first period to make 24 saves and improve his record to 12-5-3 in his last 20 games against the Devils.
Contact Dave Lozo at: email@example.com.