One day after coming together as a team to address their recent skid, the Devils returned to Prudential Center to thump the New York Rangers, 6-3, on Wednesday.
They showed more passion and intensity than the team that was shut out three days ago in Edmonton. After two days of practice and discussions about playing for one another, the Devils received goals from six different players to snap a two-game losing streak and polish off their top rival.
New Jersey held leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before Jamie Langenbrunner broke a 3-3 tie at 13:06 of the second period with the first of three unanswered goals. Twice the Rangers tied it less than a minute after the Devils had jumped ahead. But three goals in the middle frame were enough to chase Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed five tallies on 17 shots.
Zach Parise notched his 31st of the year, joining Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Zajac with a goal and an assist apiece. The Devils matched a season high with six goals (Nov. 28 vs. Islanders).
"We had a different mindset tonight," Langenbrunner said. "You could hear it on the bench. Tough play for the third goal that they tied it up on, but it was like, 'No matter, we're still going to get it.' That wasn't there the last little while where we were kind of, if something goes wrong, 'Oh, here we go again.' It was a much better mindset, and I think it showed in the way we played as solid a 60 (minutes) as we have in a long time."
Martin Brodeur posted 16 saves to help lift Jersey’s Team to their third win in five meetings with the Rangers this season. Brodeur dazzled early in the second period with a diving paddle save on Olli Jokinen to protect a 2-1 cushion. Ultimately, Wednesday's contest contrasted sharply with the Devils' epic 1-0 shootout win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 12.
"Going down the stretch we need to win and play well and win emotional games like today," Brodeur said. "I think this was a lot like playoff atmosphere. Every night, you never know. We played a 0-0 game against these guys and now it's a 6-3 game. You just never know how it's going to pan out and you have to be ready for it. Tonight, we were ready."
It was a much-needed victory, but most importantly, it was a reminder of just how dangerous the Devils (39-23-3) can be over their remaining 17 games. They moved within three points of the Atlantic Division-leading Penguins, who visit the Rock on Friday.
“The last two days we’ve been working on a team concept,” said head coach Jacques Lemaire. “The guys responded really well to it. I think we played with more intensity. We showed that we really wanted to win tonight more than I’ve seen lately. We’re (going) in the right direction.”
Niedermayer’s eighth of the season gave the Devils a 1-0 lead at 4:16 of the first period, 57 seconds before Vinny Prospal would tie it for the Rangers.
Rolston fired a sharp-angle shot from the right corner, and Niedermayer buried the rebound over Lundqvist’s glove at 4:16 for his first goal in six games. New York quickly countered with a passing play from Jokinen to Marian Gaborik, who found Prospal at the side of the net for a tap-in goal at 5:13.
Brodeur preserved the 1-1 stalemate with 4:10 to go in the first, denying Chris Drury on a 2-on-1 with Erik Christensen.
Bryce Salvador restored the New Jersey lead with 1:43 to go in the first. He one-timed an Andy Greene pass from the right point that redirected off Jokinen’s stick in the right circle and skipped past Lundqvist at 18:17. Salvador's fourth of the year snapped a 14-game points drought. With the secondary assist, Langenbrunner reached 40 on the season to match last year's career high.
Christensen tied it, 2-2, in the second. He was set up by Brandon Dubinsky in the slot and stepped around Patrik Elias before beating Brodeur’s stick side at 5:01.
Parise put the Devils back on top with his fifth goal in the last six games. He exited the penalty box for interference at 7:54, and drew a hooking call on Wade Redden at 8:23. On the ensuing power play, after Dainius Zubrus and Zajac had swipes at a Rolston rebound, Parise backhanded the loose puck past Lundqvist for a 3-2 lead at 8:38.
"It's good to get a team in here that a lot of times brings out the best in us," Parise said. "We needed that. We needed a team that we had to get excited for because they're playing for their playoff lives. It's a team that's a rival – you have to play well against them."
Brandon Prust answered 37 seconds later, when the Rangers capitalized on Mark Fraser’s turnover to knot the contest for a third time.
"The guys were focused," Lemaire said. "I understand that we scored, they scored right back, we scored again, they scored right back. I understand that, but the guys were focused to play a good game. It's probably one of the few games we played three periods the same way."
Langenbrunner’s slot redirection of a Mike Mottau pass put the Devils ahead for good. The captain skated through the middle for Mottau’s cross-ice feed and tipped his 16th of the season over Lundqvist’s right shoulder at 13:06.
Rolston’s 18th proved the last straw for Lundqvist. The Devils rushed a 3-on-1 with Rolston, Niedermayer and David Clarkson. Niedermayer muffed a pass, but Rolston gathered the puck and stepped around Dan Girardi before slipping a wrist shot underneath Lundqvist from the left circle at 15:19.
Brodeur wasn't breathing easy, even with that two-goal lead.
"Just because of the puck bouncing and guys getting wide open all night long, you just had to stay focused and not look at the scoreboard, not look at the time and just play the game," he said. "After we took the lead, I barely looked at the scoreboard and I just focused on the game itself because everything was bouncing left and right. But I think we slowed down the game pretty well after we scored that fifth goal."
On the Devils’ sixth score, Zubrus made a nifty behind-the-back pass to spring Zajac into the Rangers’ zone. Zajac set a new career high by rocketing his 21st of the season through the pads of Alex Auld, who stopped nine of 10 shots in relief of Lundqvist.
Leblond lands one during bout with Shelley. The fight followed Salvador's goal that made it 2-1 late in the first period.
Besides the team's meeting, Langenbrunner pointed to Sunday's 2-0 loss in Edmonton as a pivotal point in the Devils addressing what wasn't working on the ice.
"You almost hit a certain bottom point and, you hope, a little bit of a wake-up call," he said. "I think Sunday was that for us. 'All right, enough's enough, we've made enough excuses. We're missing something and we have to find that.'"
The captain said another test will be how the Devils fare in the days ahead. They host the defending Cup champs on Friday, visit Long Island on Saturday, then play four games next week, including another meeting with Pittsburgh next Wednesday.
"For us, it's about getting that same intensity and same focus night in and night out," he said. "We've shown spurts of it like you think we're out of it; the key for us now is to make sure we get ourselves out of this and play good hockey for the duration of the season."
• The Rangers are winless in their last four, but their slump was of no concern to Elias, who said that with the Devils needing wins, the opponent was irrelevant.
"It's always tough games to play against those guys," he said. "We always play them close; tight games. I don't think it mattered who we played today. We just kind of worried about ourselves tonight."
• Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond made his first appearance since Feb. 10 and dropped the gloves for a strong showing in a bout with Rangers tough guy Jody Shelley.
"I know Shelley and he's a good fighter and he's smart and he's bigger than (Leblond)," Lemaire said. "(Shelley) knows how to fight. I've seen him fight a lot of times; a lot of guys, and he does well. I was a little scared at the start. I heard Leblond was capable of doing well in a fight, so I said I'll see how it goes and they wanted to go. It was good. He stood up and I think even all the guys were impressed with how he did against him."
• Fraser returned to the lineup and made his presence felt with a rollicking first-period hit on Dubinsky in the Devils’ zone.
1 - 0 NJD
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NJD