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Rangers keep reeling Devils down

by Shawn P. Roarke
NEW YORK -- Sean Avery won by default in the battle against Martin Brodeur on Monday night. But, more importantly, Avery's New York Rangers won the war as well, securing a 3-0 victory against Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.

All eyes were on Avery as he resumed his crusade against Brodeur and the Devils, a long-running feud that was temporarily halted by Avery's ill-advised decision to join the Dallas Stars as a free agent this summer.

But a rocky marriage in Dallas ended quickly, and Avery rejoined the Rangers when he was claimed on re-entry waivers earlier this month, right before the trade deadline. Monday night marked the first time Avery played against the Devils since returning to Broadway.

"It's a great rivalry and I'm fortunate to be involved in it," said Rangers coach John Tortorella, who replaced Tom Renney just before Avery joined the team. "It was all hyped up with Marty and Sean and everything, but we wanted to treat it as just another team and find a way to win."

Both teams needed the win in a major way, but the Rangers earned the valuable two points with a three-goal outburst in the second period. Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi scored two minutes apart early in the second and Ryan Callahan added a third goal late in the frame to blow open a tense affair.

The Rangers entered the game holding the most tenuous of playoff footholds, but Monday's two points gave the team some breathing room.

After Monday night's win, the Rangers remain in seventh place, but they now have 89 points, three clear of eighth-place Montreal and four ahead of ninth-place Florida with just six games left on the schedule. The Rangers are now just one point behind sixth-place Pittsburgh, as well. The Rangers lost to Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon.

"Right now, you can't lose two games in a row," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 38 saves in the shutout. "We have five games to go and it is so important that we rebound from each one, win or lose. You have to let it go and move on and we did a great job of that tonight."

The Devils, meanwhile, have lost five-straight games and their once comfortable hold on the Atlantic Division lead is slipping away. New Jersey holds a six-point lead on second-place Philadelphia with six games remaining on the schedule. Philadelphia has a game in hand. The Devils have also coughed up the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, allowing the Washington Capitals to pass them.

New Jersey coach Brent Sutter was fuming after Monday night's action was complete, frustrated by the lack of quality chances the team generated despite the stakes on the line in the contest.

"There was no offense because there was no urgency," Sutter said. "You've got to pay a price to score goals and we don't want to do that right now. We are not playing like we need to play at this time of the season, bottom line."

Avery was a big part of a New York team that was willing to pay the price to score goals against Brodeur. Shift after shift, Rangers forwards went to the net, screening Brodeur and crashing his crease, forcing him to battle virtually every one of the 37 shots thrown his way, including 20 in the first period alone.

Avery also set a good example for his teammates, refusing to get sucked into the anticipation and hype surrounding this game. He never crossed the line that he trampled so often during last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinal, a five-game upset by the Rangers that will be most remembered for Avery face-guarding Brodeur in one game and calling him names in public after another.

This time, he just played hard, screening Brodeur repeatedly and drawing several penalties as a frustrated Devils team tried to seek retribution for past sins in the third period of an already decided game. Avery finished with an assist, on Callahan's goal, and had three shots, four hits and a plus-1 rating.

"I know there was a lot of anticipation beforehand," Avery said. "I just went in the same way I have for a lot of the games and just tried to get focused, knowing what I have to do and knowing what Torts expects of me and that's it."

That was the Rangers’ game plan and it paid off in spades on a night that New York was desperate to garner two points in its bid to make the postseason for a fourth-straight season.  

"We played a hell of a game," said Dubinsky. "All four lines were working and we moved the puck well and Hank (Lundqvist) was being Hank. He was big tonight."

Every Ranger was big in his own way on this night, making the Avery situation more footnote than sideshow as the Rangers went about securing the victory that might just deliver them to the postseason.

"We don't have a playoff spot," Tortorella cautioned afterward. "We are in the playoffs, but we're still fighting for our lives here. We're just trying to find a way to get some points. We'll take it a day at a time. I know playoffs is a subject, but we just want to get in there and we are going to take it a game at a time to give ourselves a chance to get there."

It's safe to say the Rangers took a big step in that direction Monday night.
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