The Devils missed out on a chance to clinch a playoff berth, but moved back into first place with Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting New York Rangers.
New York's Chris Drury scored with 16.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, and Erik Christensen netted the only goal in the shootout.
Jersey’s Team held leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. Jamie Langenbrunner blasted his 17th of the season past Henrik Lundqvist’s blocker to snap a 2-2 tie at 12:37 of the third.
The Rangers pulled Lundqvist with 1:25 to go, and knotted the contest when Christensen found Drury in front for a shot between Martin Brodeur’s pads. Brodeur made 28 saves in the game, including four in overtime. Lundqvist finished with 35 stops, with six coming in the extra session.
"You always feel when you play as good as we did that you should win," said head coach Jacques Lemaire.
Ilya Kovalchuk had the best chance of overtime. Lundqvist prevented him from burying a rebound from the doorstep with 1:41 left.
Christensen went first in the shootout. His shot appeared to stay out of the net after hitting the left and right posts. Video replay confirmed the puck had crossed the line, just inside the right post. Brodeur knew Christensen had caught the iron.
"I heard it hit the two posts," Brodeur said. "It went in and hit the second post. But right away the linesman said, 'I saw the net move, it's got to be in."
Zach Parise tried five-hole, but was stopped by Lundqvist. Artem Anisimov hit the right post behind Brodeur before Lundqvist made a glove save on Patrik Elias. Brandon Dubinsky and Travis Zajac, the final shooter, both missed the net.
Lemaire said Kovalchuk would have followed Langenbrunner as the Devils' fifth shooter. Kovalchuk is 2-for-7 on shootouts this season.
"He was coming on later," Lemaire said. "And if I had to do it again, maybe he would have been first because the other three didn't score."
Elias had a goal and an assist and nearly added two more on breakaways. He deked Lundqvist on a shorthanded breakaway midway through the second, but was blocked by the goalie’s right pad. Langenbrunner sent Elias in alone with 7:39 left in the third for a shot that got past Lundqvist's blocker and trickled wide of the left post.
"Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't," Elias said.
Parise had a goal waved off at 10:16 of the second and a video review upheld the call. Langenbrunner slid a centering pass in front of the net that caromed off Parise’s right skate and between Lundqvist’s pads.
The Devils (43-25-5) gained a point to tie the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Atlantic Division, but have one more win with a game in hand. They finished 3-2-1 against the Rangers to take the season series.
A win coupled with Atlanta’s 2-1 overtime to loss to Toronto would have clinched the Devils’ 13th straight trip to the postseason. They hope to punch their ticket to the playoffs this weekend, when they head to Montreal on Saturday, Philadelphia on Sunday.
Brodeur wasn't surprised by a tightly-contested meeting with the Devils' cross-river rivals.
"When there's a rivalry, emotionally it's always a roller coaster," Brodeur said. "They're competing to save their (playoff) lives these guys. We knew they weren't going to roll over."
Leading in the third period, the Devils appeared poised to further damage the Rangers' playoff hopes.
"It is disappointing, no doubt about it," Brodeur said. "For our game, I think we played an extremely good hockey game. We made a couple of mistakes, but nothing big. We did well doing different things. It was just at the end, whatever happened, happened. It's just too bad."
Kovalchuk opened the scoring the first period, charging to the front of the net to put home Brian Rolston’s rebound at 5:21. Kovalchuk’s 38th of the year was his fifth point in two games (2g-3a). He's two goals shy of his sixth straight season with at least 40, and has amassed seven goals, 10 assists in 18 games with New Jersey.
Dubinsky used the power play to tie it up in the second. He scored his 17th with a wrister from the left circle at 6:00. Elias broke the 1-1 stalemate in the third, one-timing David Clarkson’s feed over Lundqvist’s glove for his 14th of the year at 3:53.
The Rangers came back to tie a second time midway through the third. Brandon Prust centered out of the left corner for Anisimov, who stickhandled and lifted the puck by Brodeur at 9:40.
Peters uncorked this right to send Jody Shelley to the ice in the first period.
Lemaire didn't see the tying goal as the result of a breakdown.
"They pulled the goalie, sent the puck behind the net," Lemaire said. "There were three guys in front, our center was up a little high, he was late for that play. The thing is, we shouldn't be there at the end that they pulled their goalie. We had enough chances; 17 to 20 (scoring) chances. They had around seven, eight chances. We felt good about the game. We could have run away with the game, easy. Their goalie was great and it happens, what can you do?"
Plus, the Devils picked up a valuable point.
"It would've been worse if we didn't get a point, playing as good as we did," he said.
• Kovalchuk got the best of Sean Avery's attempted hit in the second period, sending the Rangers' pest to the ice.
"He's that kind of player that you just have to leave him alone to talk to himself," Kovalchuk said. "He's not a difference in the game, he just skates around and talks."
• Elias went forward with the final draw against Drury in regulation, which wound up on the stick of New York defenseman Michael Del Zotto before the Rangers eventually tied it at 3-3.
"I was struggling on those faceoffs a little bit today and I tried to go against him, forward, because that's where the hole was," Elias explained. "They had a set up with three guys on that side. We knew about it, Zach knew about it, so we just went right straight out. They didn't get a shot off that but it's one of those things that, if it works out, we're out of the zone."
Elias, who has a goal and four assists in the last two games, flirted with a hat trick on two breakaways against the Rangers on Thursday.
"I just tried to move him with me to the righ," Elias said of his shorthanded break. "He didn't because he plays so deep and he had his pads there. Maybe I could've shot that. On the second one I shot, it got through his arm and wide."
Elias beat Lundqvist for the deciding goal in the Devils' 1-0 shootout win at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 12.
"In the shootout, I've had a few of those against him," Elias said. "He knew what I was looking for. I've scored a couple on him on his glove side, but he didn't give me that tonight."
Overall, Elias was satisfied with the team's effort.
"It's not like they had the pressure," he said. "I think that we still had control of the game. We had more opportunities to score; to put the game away, but we stuck with it. It was a good hockey game. I thought that we played well, we just didn't win in regulation. It happens, and we can analyze the last play as much as we want. I thought that we played a good game."
•Colin White was on the ice for the tying goal, and was pressuring Christensen behind the net as he made the pass to Drury.
"I'll have to watch it and see what happened, exactly," White said. "Obviously, we know they're just throwing everything to the net come the last 20 seconds of the game."
The desperation play connected for the Rangers.
"It was a nice play," White said. "He was throwing it to the front; he wasn't placing it. He knew there would be traffic there. There's always traffic at the net in the last 20 seconds when you pull your goalie. You're just trying to get the puck somewhere out in front. He made a nice play. It (stinks)."
• In the first period, though Rangers tough guy Jody Shelley dropped gloves and Andrew Peters didn’t, each received minors for unsportsmanlike conduct. They squared off after exiting the penalty box, and Peters took a few shots before sending Shelley to the ice with a heavy right at 9:01.
• After going 3-for-6 on the power play against Columbus, the Devils went 0-for-3 versus the Rangers. They registered two shots on 38 seconds of a 4-on-3 in the first period, finishing with six PP shots for the night.
1 - 0 NJD
Michael Del Zotto
1 - 1 Tie