NEW YORK -- Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist believes he's ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It certainly appeared that way on Saturday when he made 35 saves to help the New York Rangers celebrate their 50th win of the season in a 6-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.
Lundqvist, who missed 24 games with a vascular injury from Feb. 4 through March 24, looked like his old self. His shutout bid ended with 3:30 remaining when Tuomo Ruutu scored, but it didn’t have an impact on the outcome. Dominic Moore scored twice for the Rangers (50-21-7); Rick Nash, Keith Yandle, Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard each had one goal.
Since returning to the lineup, Lundqvist is 3-1-0; he has won three straight and allowed five goals over that stretch.
Lundqvist was asked after the game if he feels ready for the postseason.
"I think so," he said. "The first game I played (against the Boston Bruins on March 28) was tough. I was analyzing way too much instead of just playing but I expected that having missed two months. But I feel close to where I want to be and need to be moving forward. I'm trying to work on my game every period and it's a lot of fun to feel that progress."
Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid made 23 saves on 26 shots in relief of Cory Schneider, who allowed three goals on six shots in the opening 12:24. It marked the eighth time this season that Schneider was pulled.
"I think that wasn't an indication of how (Schneider) was playing," Devils defenseman Andy Greene said. "I think it was to get us going. You can't say enough good things with the way he's played this year. He's been unbelievable and I'm sure he wanted to stick it out. It was tough, but he'll be ready to go next game."
The victory was the third straight for the Rangers, who are first in the Eastern Conference with 107 points, three ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers became the fourth team in their history to win at least 50 games (1991-92, 1993-94, 2011-12).
"Fifty wins just shows we've been doing a lot of good things," Lundqvist said. "We set the bar high after last year. We wanted to come back and give ourselves a chance to play for the Stanley Cup again and the first part in getting there is the regular season, so the big challenge is still ahead. We need to keep doing the right things to play well and get wins."
New York took a 4-0 lead with 2.7 seconds left in the second period when Stepan scored his 14th of the season on a shorthanded breakaway. Stepan took a lead pass from Nash and broke in 1-on-1 against Kinkaid before backhanding a shot over the goal line. It was the ninth shorthanded goal for the Rangers this season.
Stepan feels Lundqvist has made a quick recovery and is again proving to be dominant in goal.
"I think if you ask him he'll say he wants to be better but he's looked really sharp the past two games," Stepan said.
Brassard made it 5-0 on a centering attempt from the left circle that deflected off the skate of defenseman Adam Larsson and past Kinkaid 1:55 into the third. Moore scored his second of the game at 12:00.
The Rangers opened a 3-0 lead in the first on goals by Nash, Yandle and Moore. Lundqvist was sharp, making 13 saves and looking very comfortable in his crease.
"(Lundqvist) looks like himself, is talking like himself and carrying himself like he's normal and that's a good sign for us for sure," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He's trying to get back his preparation and focus as quickly as possible and he made some great saves [Saturday] on the penalty-kill and 5-on-5."
Nash scored his career-high 42nd of the season off a deflection in the slot off a pass from the left circle by Mats Zuccarello at 5:10. Nash put his stick on the ice and between the skates of defenseman Jon Merrill before Zuccarello put the puck right off his tape.
With the goal, Nash became the first 42-goal scorer for the Rangers since Marian Gaborik in 2009-10.
Yandle made it 2-0 when scored his first goal as a Ranger at Madison Square Garden after sending a shot from the point that beat a screened Schneider at 11:59.
"It shows a lot about the team and the way guys compete every night [to win 50 games]," Yandle said. "Obviously I haven't been here for all of them, but it's a lot of fun the ones that I have [played]. There are winning ways in this locker room and guys really take pride in what we do here. It's fun to come to the rink."
Moore scored 25 seconds after Yandle's goal when he took a pass from Tanner Glass down the middle and drove a shot past Schneider at 12:24. Devils co-coach Lou Lamoriello decided to replace Schneider with Kinkaid after Moore's goal. Schneider entered the game 0-1-1 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .885 save-percentage in two games against the Rangers this season.
"I just think we gave them whatever opportunities we gave them and they took advantage of it and that's the way the whole night went," Lamoriello said. "We had opportunities to score. I think we had 35, 36 shots, a lot of quality shots and we have to put those away."
The Rangers host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.
"There's no doubt that we caught (Schneider) on a rough night," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "The first three chances found the back of the net. That doesn't happen very often against a goaltender of that quality but it happened. After that, (Lundqvist) just shut them down. He made some big saves. Unfortunately he lost the shutout on the tip at the end."