Henrik Lundqvist could only watch as Patrik Elias buried Sunday's winner in the fourth round of the shootout.
newjerseydevils.com (April 6) – This was a big one.
The Devils entered Sunday's season finale against the Rangers looking for their first win of the season against their Hudson River rivals and home ice advantage in their upcoming first-round playoff series.
It was mission accomplished on both fronts after Patrik Elias potted his team-leading fifth shootout goal of the year to decide a 3-2 Devils victory at Prudential Center.
Elias was the final shooter of the fourth round and curled toward Henrik Lundqvist from the right side, snapping an unstoppable shot over Lundqvist's catching glove.
The teams were scoreless through two rounds until ex-Devil Scott Gomez snuck one through Martin Brodeur's pads in the third. Zach Parise answered right back with the tying tally on a top-shelf backhander.
In the first sudden death round, Fredrik Sjostrom's attempt dribbled harmlessly into Brodeur's pads. Elias followed, pounding home the winner.
John Madden's 20th gave the Devils the early lead.
The Devils avoided what would have been their first sweep at the hands of the Rangers in 14 years (1-4-3), and closed out the regular season with four wins in their final five (4-1-0).
New Jersey ends the 2007-08 season with a mark of 46-29-7, third-best in the Eastern Conference in both wins and points (99).
New York needed a win in regulation to pass New Jersey for fourth, and pulled Lundqvist with 1:05 left in the third to try and break the 2-2 tie. A hooking call on John Madden set the table for a 6-on-4 Rangers advantage with 28.2 seconds left, but Brodeur and the Devils barred the door.
"I think it comes down to there being a high level of pride in the dressing room," head coach Brent Sutter said. "We were winless in seven going in, and that close again. That being said – great hockey. I thought the game was an outstanding game for game 82. It's a credit to the guys for responding like they did after [Friday's loss in Philadelphia]. Now we get to move on to the next stage.
The Devils secured the fourth seed in the East and will begin their opening-round matchup against the Rangers at Prudential Center on Wednesday. Game two is set for Friday night in Newark, with start times yet to be determined.
The outlook on that series changes with New Jersey's latest win. It's one thing to open the playoffs on the heels of eight straight losses to your opponent. But it's another entirely to have gutted out a 'W' in the season finale.
"Obviously the guys were excited," Sutter said. "We were able to get through it, especially killing that penalty off at the end. A reminder was brought in that we still wanted to win the game. That's what we came in here to do. With that point, we obviously clinched fourth and home ice in the first round, but we obviously still wanted to win the game."
Madden and Mike Rupp scored first-period goals for the Devils, who took a 2-0 lead before the Rangers responded with one in the second and the tying goal in the third.
Brodeur made 17 saves, including one in overtime, for his 44th win of the season and 538th of his career. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner will begin the 2008-09 campaign needing 13 wins to match Patrick Roy's league record of 551 victories.
In his 41st straight start to close out '07-08, Brodeur also passed Terry Sawchuk (57,194) for second all-time in minutes played (57,208). Roy holds the all-time mark with 60,235.
Madden put the Devils ahead with his 20th of the season, tapping home his own rebound off of Brian Gionta's centering feed at 4:36.
Madden's first point against the Rangers gave him his second career 20-goal season (23, 2000-01), while Paul Martin, who started the play in the neutral zone, recorded his 100th career assist.
Rupp made it a two-goal edge on his third of the year, and first in 32 games. The 6-5 winger collected a Dainius Zubrus pass in the neutral zone, and drove wide around Michal Roszival down the left side. With David Clarkson driving to the net, Rupp snapped one from the left circle, beating Lundqvist to the far side at 12:57.
New Jersey misfired on two power-play chances in the first, but nonetheless dominated the opening frame, outshooting New York, 11-2. One of those two shots came early in the contest, when Brodeur stopped a Jaromir Jagr chance from the high slot at 1:52.
Chris Drury's 25th put the Rangers on the board at 19 seconds of the middle period, when New York began its comeback. It was Drury's fourth goal in eight games against the Devils this season, to go with four assists.
Brodeur made nine saves in the second, including a tough stop on Brendan Shanahan from the bottom of the right circle at 11:37.
The Rangers then tied it in the third, with Sean Avery finding Jagr alone in the slot for a one-timer and his 25th at 4:46.
Parise was foiled late in the third on two excellent saves by Lundqvist. On the Devils' third power play of the afternoon, Lundqvist threw his glove up to grab Parise's follow up of an Elias rebound at 14:52.
Seconds later, Parise took a Travis Zajac pass at the empty side to Lundqvist's left, but skipped one off his catching glove at 15:27.
NJD NOTES Devils finished 6-2 in home shootouts, 8-4 overall... Elias, who tied Parise for the team lead in game winners (8), finished the year 5-for-6 in shootout chances including two deciding goals... Gionta (forehand, wide) and Langenbrunner (forehand, pad save) were New Jersey's other shooters... Brodeur stopped Shanahan's five-hole try in the shootout before Nigel Dawes' backhand attempt caught the outside of the net... Rupp's two other goals this season both came in a Jan. 29 meeting versus Pittsburgh.
Sunday's Super Score-O Final was also a thriller, as Vernon Uveges of Perth Amboy won a Lincoln MKX and Chris Maccarone of Garfield took home a Ford Edge, courtesy of the Tri-State Ford and Lincoln Mercury Dealers.
1 - 0 NJD
2 - 0 NJD
2 - 1 NJD
2 - 2 Tie
Interference on goalkeeper