EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Unlike a year ago, the New Jersey Devils aren't waiting until the final game to take control in the Atlantic Division.
Martin Brodeur stopped 26 shots for his NHL-best eighth shutout of the season, defenseman Brad Lukowich scored a rare goal and the Devils opened a 10-point lead in the division with a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
"It's never too early to gain ground on teams," Brodeur said after his 88th career shutout. "The Rangers have a great hockey club and they will bounce back. The more leeway you have on teams around you, the better it is."
The Devils closed last season with an 11-game winning streak to beat out the Rangers for the division title. This year, the surging Devils are rolling as they head toward the All-Star break with an 11-game run (9-1-1) that has put them way ahead of the second-place Rangers.
New York coach Tom Renney thought his team played well despite losing for the third time in four games.
"I think we have moved forward to being a more complete team," Renney said. "What we are not capable of doing is sustaining that. I would like to play these guys every second game so we could identify with excellence."
Brodeur wasn't tested much, but he came up big when it counted, stopping Martin Straka in front with 3:44 to play.
"He had the puck on his backhand and when I saw that, I knew he'd have a hard time picking a corner," Brodeur said. "I just threw myself in front of the puck and I was able to get a good piece and control the rebound."
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist didn't have that easy a decision on Lukowich's goal, which snapped a 20-game goal-scoring drought.
Lukowich took a shot from the left point as Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner stationed himself in front of the goaltender.
"Those guys were working hard in front," Lukowich said of his second goal of the season. "I think that's what messed him up more than anything. He's expecting it to move one way or the other. There were sticks waving in front and it found its way through."
Lundqvist said he was screened.
"I saw when he was shooting the puck and then I lost it," Lundqvist said. "Then I saw it right in front of me."
Before Straka's late shot, the Rangers' best scoring chances came in the opening minutes. Defenseman Marek Malik hit the post while coming in late on a play about five minutes in, and Brendan Shanahan was stopped by Brodeur on a breakaway a couple of minutes later.
Devils forward Brian Gionta created a little excitement late in the opening period, shoving a rebound into the net with his glove, but the apparent goal was quickly waved off by the officials.
The shutout was Brodeur's fourth in 11 games and it moved him just six behind George Hainesworth for second overall in NHL history. Terry Sawchuk's 103 is the record.
Once again the Devils did a great job on Jaromir Jagr, limiting him to one third-period shot. It was a good one, though. Jagr also set up Petr Prucha for a tough second-period drive.
Patrik Elias of the Devils almost got a lucky goal in the first period when his shot from the point deflected off Rangers defenseman Fedor Tyutin and hit the post.
The Devils were not called for a penalty, keeping the Rangers' potent power play off the ice. New Jersey was 0-for-4 with the extra skater.
Notes: Rangers C Blair Betts had all five of his shots in the first period, tying his season high for a game. ... Devils D Johnny Oduya missed his sixth straight game with a shoulder injury. ... The crowd of 18,096 was a season high for the Devils, who have yet to sell out a home game despite a 16-4-3 record at Continental Airlines Arena. ... The Rangers lead the season series 3-2.
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