The Devils came within a few bounces of a better fate in their first meeting of the season with their cross-river rivals.
But despite outplaying the visiting Rangers for much of the first two periods, the Devils missed some key chances to take control on the scoreboard.
They were without leading scorer Patrik Elias, who was out sick. In Elias' absence, Travis Zajac stepped up with his first goal of the season. It was all the offense the Devils would get in Tuesday's 4-1 defeat.
"It's frustrating definitely that we lost," said coach Peter DeBoer. "I take a lot of solace in the fact that I thought we played a hell of a game. I thought, for having a short lineup, some of the kids we had at key positions, I thought we played a hell of a hockey game."
Henrik Lundqvist's 30-save performance was the difference. After Zajac made it 1-0, the Devils couldn't connect for a second strike in the first period despite outshooting the Rangers, 12-4.
Artem Anisimov answered Zajac's first-period marker to tie the contest at 1 in the second. Marian Gaborik broke the stalemate 4:45 into the third before Carl Hagelin's shorthanded goal put the Rangers ahead by a pair with 5:18 to go. Gaborik added an empty-netter with 3.3 seconds left.
"I thought Lundqvist played really well and he was definitely the difference," Zach Parise said.
Lundqvist made two key stops on Adam Henrique. He got a right pad on Henrique's redirection on a 2-on-1 with Ilya Kovalchuk midway through the second. Later, on a Devils power play with six minutes to go in the third, he got enough of Henrique's attempt from the right circle to deflect it wide of the left post.
"He was really good and then he made a really good save on Adam on that power play, it went through his five hole and went wide," Parise said. "Again, I thought he was the difference."
The Devils (18-14-1) saw their season-high winning streak halted at four games. They host Washington on Friday.
"We just won six out of seven and that might have been the best 60-minute effort we've had out of that entire stretch," DeBoer said. "We didn't come out on the right end of it, but I liked how we played. I don't consider it a setback."
"I thought we competed really hard," Brodeur said. "We just couldn't get the goal that we needed to maybe break the game open. They found a way to get it."
The Devils had to wait until game No. 33 to rekindle the Battle of the Hudson, and emotions ran high from the first drop of the puck. Cam Janssen fought Mike Rupp just three seconds into the game, and David Clarkson dropped the gloves with Brandon Dubinsky at 1:47.
"There's a reason why we both started [the game]," Janssen said. "I asked him, and apparently he said yes. He's a good guy and he knows what was coming. Big guy, we both had to do what we had to do. It kind of set a tone."
The sellout crowd of 17,625 did their part to get Prudential Center rocking, too.
"It was like a playoff-type game at ice level," DeBoer said. "There was some chances both ways. I thought they got some bounces. One popped over our stick there, their first goal. We're in the right spot and it pops over the stick. The second one, we're in the right position and it squeaks through to the goal line. They had some puck luck around the net that we didn't get, and that was the story."
Zajac opened the scoring with his first goal since March 15. With Elias out, Zajac lit the lamp with new linemates Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus.
"I'm getting there," Zajac said after his third game back from offseason Achilles surgery. "I still think I can be better. I'll try and do that every game, every practice, trying to improve and get to where I'm at my best."
After Zajac won an offensive zone draw, Matt Taormina launched a point shot that Lundqvist stopped. Lundqvist foiled rebound chances by Sykora and Zubrus before Zajac scooped the puck into the net at 15:51.
Zajac had another crack at Lundqvist four minutes into the second, but lost the handle on his forehand.
"I'm getting chances, you just have to start burying them," he said. "I'm starting to get a little more of a feel for the puck. Hopefully I can continue to get chances."
An exciting middle frame featured missed opportunities at both ends. Derek Stepan hit the post in the opening minute of the period, Kurtis Foster did the same from the right circle at 4:26. Lundqvist stopped Kovalchuk with the shaft of his goal stick during a 4-on-4 at 7:58.
Ryan Callahan redirected a Brad Richards pass off the left post at 11:42.
Anisimov would even the score on a feed out of the right corner from Stepan. Foster got a piece of the pass, but not enough to break it up before Anisimov put it in with 2:32 to go in the period. The Devils then dodged a bullet in the final minute when Ryan McDonagh hit the crossbar on an odd-man rush with 17.8 seconds remaining.
Gaborik snapped the stalemate in the third. Anisimov took a backhand shot on goal from the right circle and Gaborik put the rebound into the open left side at 4:45.
The Devils were looking for the equalizer on a late power play after McDonagh was called for closing his hand on the puck. Kovalchuk couldn't keep the puck in along the left wall, springing Hagelin and Rupp on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Hagelin kept the puck and scored from the right circle at 14:42.
"That wasn't the story of the game," DeBoer said. "We're pressing at the end, we're down. That wasn't the difference in the game tonight."