Surely Libor Hajek will never forget his fifth National Hockey League game, for the good and for the bad and for how close together they ran.
The Rangers sent themselves off on a road trip to Western Canada with a convincing come-from-behind win over the Devils at Madison Square Garden, a win helped enormously by one of the highlights of the season, followed not long thereafter by, well, the opposite of that.
Hajek showed serious touch in scoring his first National Hockey League goal, which tied the score in the third period and vaulted the Rangers toward a 4-2 victory over New Jersey. But he showed real discomfort in retreating to the dressing room after absorbing a hit as he moved the puck along the backwall, and David Quinn said after the game that the 21-year-old rookie had a separated shoulder.
Video: NJD@NYR: Hajek goes top shelf for first NHL goal
All this happened within a seven-minute span of the third period, the only cloud over a gratifying home-ice victory. The Blueshirts earned points for the fifth time in their last seven games, but they weren't about to sugarcoat it: They needed a win.
"It's good to come back home and obviously get down a little early and have a good come-from-behind win, and feel good about ourselves," said Ryan Strome. "It's always nice to get a point and play these good teams, but at the end of the day it's about winning. The rink will be a lot funner tomorrow getting two points than it is getting one point."
Strome only continued to pour it on the Devils, scoring twice against them for the second time in two weeks, and adding an assist to make it nine points (seven goals) in his last seven games against New Jersey. And Vlad Namestnikov, moving onto a line with Mika Zibanejad, picked up three points of his own, including the tiebreaking goal with time winding down in the third.
Video: NJD@NYR: Strome redirects Shattenkirk's shot
Zibanejad assisted on the winner and the insurance marker, and Henrik Lundqvist shut the door after from first intermission on and finished with 22 saves for career win No. 449, his 38th against the Devils.
"We had a bunch of guys step up tonight," Quinn said, "and we needed that."
"A lot of games this year where I've felt we've deserved to win but we didn't," Lundqvist said. "But tonight, there's no question we deserved two points the way we played."
The Rangers improved to 3-0 this season against the Devils, sending their injury-riddled cross-river rivals to their sixth consecutive loss (0-5-1). They have had to stage comebacks in two of those games, including from a 2-0 deficit 20 minutes into this one before taking the game over for the final 40, during which they outshot the Devils 31-12.
The Rangers also sent themselves onto the road on a happy note - the Blueshirts will play four games in four cities over a six-day span, beginning on Monday night in Edmonton and concluding Saturday in St. Paul. Likewise for the Devils, who begin a similar stretch in Calgary on Tuesday.
Damon Severson and Blake Coleman scored the New Jersey goals, while Cory Schneider made 37 saves, holding his team in it until both the Rangers and the back end of a back-to-back caught up with them. "Give that team a ton of credit, boy - they've obviously been decimated by injuries, and they played last night, and they played their (tails) off," Quinn said. "They made it very difficult for us. But I was just really proud of our guys the way we battled and we found a way to win."
Coleman was the man who delivered the clean hit on Hajek in behind, near the midpoint of the third, at which point the rookie slumped his left shoulder and was tended to on the bench by trainer Jim Ramsay before heading back to the room. Quinn said the Rangers would know more when Hajek had had a chance for a more thorough evaluation.
Quinn's evaluation of the first period was that "I thought we got off to a good start tonight," but that the Devils employed a unique strategy to swing the momentum: They took penalties.
"Our first seven, eight minutes were good," the coach said. "And then unfortunately, we got two power plays."
Just at the expiration of the second one, Severson stepped into a Kenny Agostino bank pass that found its way in off Hajek amid a pile of bodies in front of Lundqvist, putting the Devils in front at 16:26. They made it 2-0 just 10.1 seconds before the horn, on a power-play goal - New Jersey's first in 10 games - by Coleman, a redirect into the ice of Will Butcher's point shot that gave Lundqvist no chance.
"I thought that really changed the momentum of the game," Quinn said of his team's own power plays. "It really deflated us, they jumped on us, and that three-minute sequence left a very sour taste in our mouth going into the second period.
"But I give our guys a lot of credit, because we kept playing. We shook it off. And I thought our power play got better and better each time we got one."
"Biggest challenge was probably not to get frustrated," Lundqvist said. "We just kept going, and it paid off in the end."
Strome rewarded the patience at 18:22 of the second by parking himself in front of and having Kevin Shattenkirk's wrister hit off his shin pad. It gave Strome points in six of the Rangers' last seven home games.
"We've been stressing that all week - getting a guy in front of the net, have one guy stay there, and have the four other guys move around the zone," said Brady Skjei, who assisted on Namestnikov's winner and finished his night plus-3. "That's what we've preached. Got a good bounce and Shatty did a good job of getting it through. And the other goal was nice too - Libor getting his first was awesome."
That one took only 1:29 into the third, and Hajek looked like he had done it before. Chris Kreider curled and surveyed the zone and picked him out as a trailer; Hajek took a look, buried his head and fired what could not have been a better shot - far side, top corner, tie game.
"He's a great kid and a great player, and he deserves that," Namestnikov said.
Video: NJD@NYR: Namestnikov nets one-timer to break tie
The tie, along with the Rangers' domination of the game, carried until 6:35 remained, Namestnikov popping up high when Zibanejad got a puck from Skjei along the goal line, then one-timing Zibanejad's feed post-and-in to Schneider's stick side. Strome capped it with an empty-netter 9.6 seconds from the end to make it a happy traveling party when the Rangers depart for Alberta on Sunday.
"I just think we deserved it," Strome said. "So many close games that we haven't been able to seal the deal. It feels good to take two.
"It's going to be a tough road trip, it's going to be challenging, a big test for us - a lot of teams in crucial playoff positions, and it's going to test the strength of our team. So it's good to finish one off at home."