By Jim Cerny, BlueshirtsUnited.com
The last two years the Rangers had their playoff fate decided on the final day of the regular season. Not this year.
The Rangers clinched a berth in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a full ten games remaining on their schedule when the defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-2 Monday night at Madison Square Garden. The win---which snapped a two-game losing skid---also pushed the Rangers three points ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan each scored a goal and contributed an assist on Monday for the Rangers, while Ryan Callahan and Carl hagelin both notched a pair of assists. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 20 of 22 shots to earn the victory in goal for the Blueshirts, besting Martin Brodeur, who finished with 23 saves for New Jersey.
Among the heroes for the Rangers were three players who did not end up on the scoresheet. But at the opening faceoff those three---Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp, and Brandon Prust---took part in a line brawl three seconds from the first drop of the puck. Bickel fought and bloodied Ryan Carter, while Rupp battled Eric Boulton, and Prust tangled with Cam Janssen as the three fights spilled throughout center ice, and took place after New Jersey---as the visiting team announces its starters first---chose to start this particular starting lineup.
Just 68 seconds after the long drawn-out brawl, Dubinsky beat Brodeur on a broken play in the slot for his eighth goal, and the Rangers would not trail the rest of the night. Dan Girardi scored after a Devils giveaway 33 seconds into the second period to boost the Blueshirts lead to 2-0.
After a Patrick Elias goal---his 25th of the season---Mats Zuccarello batted in a rebound out front during a Rangers' power play at 7:33 of the middle stanza to give the home team a 3-1 lead. The goal was the second in as many games for Zuccarello.
Petr Sykora also scored in the second period to close the gap on the Rangers, but Stepan deflected a Dubinsky shot past Brodeur for his 16th goal with 1:10 left to play in the third period to ice the contest for the Blueshirts.