NEW YORK -- It started with nearly 900 pounds of humanity slugging it out at center ice after the opening faceoff and concluded with a seven-person pileup in Martin Brodeur's crease that washed away a tying goal for the Rangers with 3.5 seconds remaining.
In between, David Clarkson scored his 21st goal of the season, Brodeur made 30 saves for his 117th career shutout, and the Devils continued to climb the Eastern Conference standings with a 1-0 victory against the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Artem Anisimov brought the raucous sellout crowd to its feet when he banged home a rebound of a Ryan Callahan shot with time winding down in regulation, but Marian Gaborik was called for goaltender interference, wiping away a goal that would've sent the game to overtime.
The Rangers argued that Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov pushed Gaborik into Brodeur to no avail.
"I thought it was the right call," said Devils coach Peter DeBoer, whose team has won five straight since the All-Star break. "Marty gets pushed into the net. It's the right call. I give them credit for getting it right."
"They have rules -- you hit the goalie, you get a penalty," Volchenkov said. "I saw him push Marty. I maybe pushed him a little, but I didn't push so hard."
Not surprisingly, Gaborik had a different view of the play.
"I don’t understand,” Gaborik said. “It’s frustrating. If I would have run him, I wouldn’t say a word. But the guy pushes me into him. I tried to open my leg for a pass, I tried to stop. But he just pushed me into Brodeur."
No one breathed a bigger sigh of relief than Devils captain Zach Parise, who chose to shoot for the empty net just outside the Rangers blue line instead of dumping it into the zone and had his shot blocked. The Rangers turned the puck around for an odd-man rush that led to the goal that wasn't.
"That was the worst feeling ever," Parise said. "But fortunately we escaped. That was a pretty bad feeling when I was watching the puck go in. I need to have a little more clock awareness there. I was trying to seal the game. We dodged one tonight. That was a bad play by me."
The craziness at the end nearly nullified an outstanding performance by Brodeur, who protected a one-goal edge during a third period in which the Devils were under constant pressure. He made 15 saves over the final 20 minutes and two big ones during the second period on Gaborik and Carl Hagelin.
Brodeur, who shook off a twisted ankle he suffered when Callahan landed on him during the third period, made one of his tougher saves on Brandon Dubinsky with a little more than five minutes left in regulation.
It was another outstanding goaltending duel between Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist, who played 65 minutes of scoreless hockey in this building two seasons ago. Lundqvist made 21 saves Tuesday, only allowing a power-play goal to Clarkson off a perfect pass from Parise in the first period.
"You always get the sense when Marty and Lundqvist play each other, you can see that they want to out-do each other," Parise said. "Ninety-nine times out of 100, it's a great goaltending battle and it was again tonight. Marty was great. He made huge saves and really got us that win."
"He's unbelievable," Brodeur said of Lundqvist. "The saves he made, where he won't get a shot for 20 minutes and he gets a breakaway and it seems like it's nothing. He played a hell of a game. It took a perfect shot to beat him."
Clarkson's goal at 8:14 of the first period was the Devils' seventh power-play goal in their last six games. Parise made the play behind the goal line, stepping around Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and hitting Clarkson in stride for the one-touch finish.
"It makes it easy for me to put that in when Zach makes a play like that," Clarkson said. "I was coming in, I yelled, but I didn't think he'd be able to get it to me. It was an unbelievable pass."
The goal came about eight minutes after a four-man brawl two seconds after the puck was dropped to start the game. The Devils' Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton squared off with the Rangers' Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust, respectively, and each duo battled until the linesmen had to step in and break up two fights that seemed like they would never end.
Upon leaving the penalty box and returning to the bench, all four received congratulations from their teammates. Clarkson said the willingness of Janssen and Boulton to go toe-to-toe with Rupp and Prust gave the Devils a lift right off the bat.
"Those two guys aren’t fighting for fun," Clarkson said. "Boults and Janny did unbelievable jobs. They got our bench going right away. I think that's one of the hardest jobs in hockey. People always say fighting this and fighting that, but that showed it right there. Those guys weren't fighting for each other or for themselves. They were fighting for the team and to set a tone."
The fights took place a week after Boulton received a $2,500 fine for slashing Rupp in their game at Prudential Center. So before Janssen dropped the gloves with Rupp, he explained how their bout came to fruition.
"I challenged him," said Janssen, who said he doesn't ask players who are hurt to fight. "I said to him, 'How's the hand?' He's like, 'Feels good.' I go, 'Do you want to do it?' He's like, 'I'll go, yeah.' I'm like, 'OK.' Simple as that. That's what we do."
While the Devils vaulted the Penguins for fifth place in the East, the Rangers maintained their three-point cushion on the idle Bruins for the top spot in the conference.
"We need to have a better start," said Callahan, whose Rangers trailed 9-1 in shots as they fell behind early. "I think that's what hurts the most. There are a lot of good thing that went on in this game, even though we didn't generate a goal, but we'll take some positives out of it.”
The Devils now sit halfway between the top and bottom of the playoff picture -- six points behind the Rangers and six points ahead of the ninth-place Panthers. Brodeur was asked if these five straight wins -- four of which have come against the Rangers (twice), Penguins and Flyers -- mean the Devils are now looking up instead of down in the standings.
"I think we're trying to shake off people around us more than anything," Brodeur said. "I think short-term, we're looking at people in front of us. I don't think we're looking at the top teams yet. Even though we're playing well against them, I don't think we're there yet. It's a work in progress. I think guys are feeling it, but to do it is a different animal. We're taking strides towards being more of an elite team, but it's going to take a little more efforts like the one today."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Michael Del Zotto
Holding the stick
Interference on goalkeeper