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Devils co-coaches lose debut to streaking Rangers

by Jon Lane

NEW YORK -- Derek Stepan's third career hat trick led the New York Rangers to their eighth straight win, 3-1 against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

The Devils (12-18-7) played their first game since firing coach Peter DeBoer on Friday. Adam Oates and Scott Stevens were named co-coaches Saturday with president and general manager Lou Lamoriello also working behind the bench for an undetermined period of time. Oates is handling the forwards and Stevens is overseeing the defensemen.

"As I said, we're taking this a game at a time," Lamoriello said. "I have to be optimistic or you shouldn't be in this game. You have to feel good … and that's the important thing; you have to start to feel good about what you're doing and feeling good about each other. Winning breeds success and success breeds winning, so you just have to keep at it."

The Rangers (19-10-4) have been winning, outscored opponents 26-11 during their streak, and have won eight in a row for the first time since Dec. 27, 1974-Jan. 11, 1975.

New York has won 10 of its past 12 games (10-2-0) and 12 of 15 (12-3-0), and has at least a point in 15 of 19 (13-4-2) and 22 of 29 (18-7-4). They are 11-2-1 against the Metropolitan Division.

Stepan has been a major part of that success. After missing the first 11 games of the season because of a broken fibula sustained in training camp, Stepan has six goals in 21 games, when the Rangers are 13-6-2.

"For the first 10 games it was very difficult to play consistent," Stepan said. "It felt good at times and at times it didn't feel as good. I've played a lot better since I've been coming back, but our team's playing a lot better too. It makes it easier for an individual to play well."

Henrik Lundqvist became the ninth goaltender to appear in 600 games with one franchise. He made 19 saves to extend his winning streak to seven games, tying a career high, and has allowed two goals or fewer in each.

The Rangers scored first after forward Dominic Moore was called for a holding penalty. Stepan stole the puck from Devils forward Travis Zajac at the blue line. Devils goalie Cory Schneider failed at a poke-check, but Stepan caught up to it and beat Schneider five-hole for the Rangers' fourth shorthanded goal of the season at 18:14.

"I didn't want to push it quite as far as I did," Stepan said. "Luckily there was enough snow on the ice to slow it down."

With New Jersey forward Jordin Tootoo off for holding at 6:51 of the second period, New York defenseman Dan Boyle took a pass from forward Derick Brassard at the left circle and fed Martin St. Louis at the right point. St. Louis' shot deflected off Stepan's leg past Schneider at 7:38.

The Devils made it 2-1 off an odd-man rush completed when defenseman Eric Gelinas faked a shot and sailed a pass to an open Steve Bernier, who put the puck past Lundqvist's outstretched glove at 10:23.

During a Devils power play late in the second period, Gelinas nearly tied it, but his slap shot from the left circle hit the post with 1:01 left. The Devils had their best chance in the third after forward Rick Nash was called for hooking at 11:23, but Lundqvist stopped Bernier and Jaromir Jagr in front. Lundqvist also denied Adam Henrique's one-timer off Jagr's feed and managed to get a glove on Scott Gomez's chance with 4:20 remaining.

"Hank made two great saves," Gomez said. "He's one of the best there is. It was a crucial part [of the game] but he did his job. We have to find a way to get that by him."

Stepan completed the scoring with an empty-netter at 18:05. He extended his point streak to five games (three goals, four assists) and is the first Rangers player to score an even-strength, a power-play and a shorthanded goal in one game since Brendan Shanahan on Dec. 3, 2006 against the New York Islanders, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Stepan's four shorthanded goals this season tied his career high.

"He’s been playing well," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's a real smart and effective player. I can use him and feel real confident in any situation, whether it's 5-on-5 against top lines, whether it's killing, whether it’s on the power play. Tonight, you know, when he had an opportunity he definitely made them pay, made a great play on the shorthanded goal and got us that power-play goal."

New Jersey has not won consecutive games since Nov. 11 and 14, and is 6-15-5 following a 6-3-2 start. The Devils played without forwards Patrik Elias (mumps), Michael Ryder (mumps) and Martin Havlat (virus), but forwards Jacob Josefson (groin) and Dainius Zubrus (leg lacerations) returned to the lineup. New Jersey is missing six players because of injury or illness.

Schneider made 25 saves for the Devils, who return to Prudential Center on Monday to play the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers visit the Dallas Stars on Monday and play eight of their next 10 games on the road.

"It's good to come right back where we were with a win," Stepan said. "You look at our schedule going forward, it's going to be a lot of hockey and we have to get ourselves ready to play some really good hockey teams."

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