NEWARK -- This was a matchup of the two youngest rosters in the National Hockey League, but it wasn't long before old animosities took over.
For the third time this season the Rangers climbed back from a two-goal deficit against the Devils, but this year's final Hudson River Rivalry game took on a sandier texture as well as a different ending than the others, with New Jersey - playing its 2018-19 home finale - scoring the late tiebreaking goal that sent the Rangers to a 4-2 loss to the Devils on Monday night in a game in which the temperature steadily kept rising.
A pair of Ranger rookies scored the goals that brought the Blueshirts level, Brett Howden rifling one home late in the first period and Filip Chytil tying things up on a second-period power play for the league's youngest team (average age 25.7). But Devils defenseman Connor Carrick scored with 4:10 remaining in regulation to assure the Devils (average age 25.9) of closing out their 2018-19 home schedule with a win, and spoiling the Rangers' plans for a season sweep of their cross-river rivals.
Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves to give the Rangers, down 2-0 after less than 15 minutes had been played, a chance to climb back in the game and take a tie into the third period. Howden's goal made it four straight games with a point, the longest streak in the rookie's career, and Connor Brickley picked up an assist in his return to the lineup, along with Neal Pionk, Vinni Lettieri, and Tony DeAngelo's 16th assist in his last 23 games.
But Miles Wood and Travis Zajac each scored in the first for New Jersey, and Carrick's goal, followed by Joey Anderson's empty-netter that sealed matters with 1:09 to play, made a winner out of rookie MacKenzie Blackwood (30 saves) in his first career start against the Blueshirts.
The Rangers now have three games remaining, continuing on Wednesday night at the Garden against the Ottawa Senators in a game that will be preceded by the ceremony announcing the 2018-19 recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.
On this night in Newark, the Rangers - playing without Pavel Buchnevich, who had a seven-game points streak but was held out as a precaution after an accidental collision during Sunday's third period in Philadelphia - had to settle for three wins out of four games against the Devils this season. And the fact they had a chance to sweep on Monday night surely must have contributed to just how heated this one became once the sides had felt the game out.
After a first period that was all about the shots on goal - there were 17 for each team, and three goals in total - the second period had more to do with the shots these players threw at one another. Each side had three players receive fighting majors in the period, and in all, 40 minutes in penalties were handed down.
Brendan Lemieux, playing his first NHL game in New Jersey, where his dad Claude honed his skills as a pest over six seasons as a Devil, was right in the middle of it when the heat turned up midway through this game. Out of the pile of Devils trying to get at Lemieux after a whistle came the first scrap, when DeAngelo stood in and traded shots with Nathan Bastian, who has five inches and 25 pounds on the Ranger blueliner.
David Quinn said he hadn't exactly anticipated that kind of intensity in this game - "but we're rivals," the coach said, "and I'm sure this was as important a game to them as it was to us. We had a chance to sweep them, and I'm sure they didn't like losing the first three. It was a heated game for sure."
"Both teams want to win," said Lundqvist. "Both teams were ready to play."
But despite a strong start from the visitors - the Rangers had nine of the game's first 11 shots - it was the Devils who, once again, raced out in front. In fact, out of the four meetings between these two teams this season, the Rangers fell behind 2-0 in three of them and rallied to tie each time - of which Quinn said, "I don't like that recipe."
"But the fightback was huge," said Kevin Shattenkirk. "We want to win these games, and we're not going to let anyone push us around."
Wood got the opening goal 3:54 in, a sharp wrister from the right dot that beat Lundqvist inside the far post, and Zajac doubled the lead on a power play at 14:34 when he and Blake Coleman were waving at Damon Severson's blue-line shot and Zajac got his stick on it to give Lundqvist no chance.
"Wood made a heck of a shot on that first goal, and we blew our coverage on the PK, and all of a sudden we're down 2-0," Quinn said. "But again, we battled back."
Video: NYR@NJD: Howden nets wrister on odd-man rush
Howden got them started, leading a three-man rush down the right wing and walking in as the defense backed off him, unloading a stick-side wrister just underneath the arm of Blackwood. It was Howden's fifth point during his four-game points streak, and the sixth goal of his rookie season. "He was one of our better players tonight for sure," Shattenkirk said.
Amid the second-period penalties came a holding call on Andy Greene, and with the Devils captain in the box Chytil tied the score, driving the middle along with Lettieri and then banging home the fat rebound of his rookie teammate's shot. It came against a fourth-ranked Devils penalty kill that had not allowed a power-play goal for seven consecutive games.
Video: NYR@NJD: Chytil jams home PPG to tie game
Chytil wound up making an early exit, though, when the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Bastian saw him coming along the boards and threw a shoulder back into him. Quinn called it an "upper-body situation," but didn't know much more of the 19-year-old's status in the immediate aftermath of the game.
By that time, Quinn said, "It looked like we ran out of gas in the third." Lundqvist had maintained the tie with a rebound stop on Zajac, followed by a wild blocker-arm save on Coleman's chance in-tight. But moments after that one, off a broken zone entry from the Devils, Drew Stafford found Carrick sneaking down the right and fed him for a wrist shot that got past Lundqvist and was the deciding goal of this heated game.
"There were a lot of good things tonight," Quinn said, "and Hank gave us a chance in the third period to find our way and maybe take advantage of an opportunity. But it just wasn't to be."