NEW YORK - While Martin Brodeur kept a close watch on Sean Avery, Henrik Lundqvist focused on a shutout.
Avery took everything the New Jersey Devils threw at him in a physical sense, and Lundqvist turned aside all 38 shots the slumping Atlantic Division leaders fired his way in sending the New York Rangers to a 3-0 victory on Monday night.
"I haven't had as many as last year," Lundqvist said of his third shutout of the season. "I'm happy for this one. Guys worked really hard for me. I made up my mind before the third period I wanted this one."
Lundqvist earned his 20th NHL shutout, 10 of which came last season. Brodeur is two behind Terry Sawchuk's career league record of 103.
"It gives you an extra good feeling to play against the best players in the league," Lundqvist said.
So much was made of the Avery-Brodeur matchup, the first since Brodeur returned from a 50-game injury absence, and Avery came back to the Rangers after a failed stint in Dallas. Not much drama materialized there, but Avery was certainly a target.
Avery annoyed David Clarkson enough in the third period to get the New Jersey enforcer off the ice.
The two were locked up in the Rangers zone, with Clarkson tugging on Avery, who chose not to drop the gloves. Clarkson kept pulling until Avery fell to the ice face first. Clarkson got a double penalty for roughing plus a misconduct. Avery earned only two minutes for roughing.
"It's a 3-0 game at that point, I don't think that there's anything to gain by doing anything," 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."
Clarkson was trying to spark his team that has scored only six goals during a season-high, five-game skid (0-4-1).
"I don't know if it's irritating," Clarkson said of Avery's style. "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."
Brandon Dubinsky and defenceman 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 Conference playoff race.
New York (40-28-9) also stretched its lead to four points over Florida, which is below the post-season cutoff.
"We're still fighting for our lives," coach John Tortorella said. "We are just trying to find a way to get points."
Soon after staying restrained against Clarkson, Avery flattened Johnny Oduya against the boards, drawing chants of his name from the crowd.
"I just went into it the same I have for a lot of games, just trying to get focused and knowing what I have to do," Avery said.
New Jersey received only two power plays, both in the third period.
The Devils have already clinched a playoff berth and lead the Atlantic by six points over Philadelphia, but have dropped six of seven (1-5-1) since Brodeur broke Patrick Roy's NHL career record for wins by a goalie.
"It's not fun," Brodeur said. "It's the time of the year you need to play well, to win games, to advance and to feel good about yourself. Right now, it's not the case for us. We're doubting how we do stuff out there. We have six games left and we have to find a way to get through this."
New Jersey, which held a 38-37 shots advantage, is one point behind second-place Washington in the East.
"I expect more from this group," angry Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "There are periods of time when everything is great and then they get into a comfort zone.
"Don't you want to finish second in your conference? 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."
Brodeur was sharp in the first period when the Rangers tied a season high with 20 shots. New York managed only 12 in the second, but broke open the scoreless game.
Lundqvist, who made 19 saves in the second, earned his 35th win. His best stops came in the second when he made a quick save with his left pad on Brian Rolston and then kicked out Bobby Holik's hard drive on the rebound.
Dubinsky started the scoring 4:35 into the second with his 11th goal and third in five games after going 23 without one. That started the taunting of Brodeur, who heard derisive chants as the Rangers built and nursed their lead.
Girardi doubled the advantage at 6:39, and Callahan made it 3-0 with 4:54 left in the second. It was his fifth goal in seven games.
Notes: The Rangers have had 20 shots in a period three times this season, including the second frame at New Jersey on Nov. 12 during a 5-2 win. ... New York is 10-2-3, including the playoffs, against the Devils with Avery in the lineup since he arrived in February 2007. ... The teams split the six-game season series.