For the first time in over a month, the New Jersey Devils (18-30-3) are no longer in last place.
New Jersey used their rivals as stepping stones, defeating the New York Rangers (29-24-1), 3-2, tonight at Madison Square Garden.
With the win, the Devils leapfrogged the Edmonton Oilers and entered a tie with the New York Islanders for 28th in the league. The Devils hold the tiebreaker over the Islanders, with one more non-shootout victory than their Atlantic Division rivals.
"If we're doing well, we'll start catching up to teams and leave them behind us," goaltender Martin Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It's going to be a long process. Hopefully, we'll keep what's going on right now going and we'll see where that brings us. But it will definitely be nice to go in the locker room, for now anyway, and see our name (in the standings) in a different spot."
Ilya Kovalchuk put the Devils' ahead, 1-0, only 1:04 into the game. After taking a drop pass from Dainius Zubrus, Kovalchuk took a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist on the short side for Kovalchuk's 15th goal of the season.
Dainius Zubrus stretched the lead to 2-0 at 8:01 of the second period. After creating a turnover in the neutral zone, Devils' defenseman Henrik Tallinder carried the puck into the Rangers' zone, leaving a drop pass for Zubrus near the top of the right circle. Zubrus one-timed the puck through an opening in Lundqvist's left arm and body, and the puck fell into the crease. Rangers' defenseman Dan Girardi attempted to clear the puck, but it went off of Lundqvist and into the back of the net.
The goal was the ninth of the year for Zubrus, who also finished with an assist.
Brian Rolston extended the lead to 3-0 with 4:56 left in the middle period. Patrik Elias passed the puck to Rolston, who fired a one-timer from the high slot that beat Lundqvist for Rolston's seventh goal of the season.
After that score, Rangers coach John Tortorella pulled Lundqvist and inserted Martin Biron. The Swedish goalie allowed three goals on 12 shots.
The goalie switch woke up the Rangers, with Ryan Callahan ending Brodeur's shutout with 3:35 left in the second period. Artem Anisimov left a drop pass for Callahan, who blasted a shot over Brodeur's shoulder for his 12th goal of the season.
Vinny Prospal pulled the Rangers to within 3-2 at 2:21 of the third period. With the Rangers on a 5-on-3 powerplay, Prospal fired a puck from the low slot. It deflected off Tallinder's stick and past Brodeur for Propsal's first goal of the season.
New York almost completed the comeback with one second remaining. Brodeur came out to play the puck, but it caromed off the end boards and toward Brandon Dubinsky. The Rangers forward fired a shot from the side boards that beat a prone Brodeur. But the puck deflected off the post and into the slot as the buzzer sounded.
Despite their recent 8-1-1 run, the Devils still remain 18 points behind the Atlanta Thrashers for the eighth seed in the conference.
Jacques Lemaire, who took over the team at its lowest point, saw the overall improvement in tonight's victory.
"It's a good team. It's a well-balanced team," Lemaire told Gulitti. "Their record shows it too. They are playing well. They are among the best teams in the league. Getting a win (against them) I hope is going to give us a lot of confidence."
David Clarkson and Sean Avery dropped the gloves at 11:31 of the second period. Avery threw one punch and fell to the ice, dragging Clarkson with him...Both Rolston and Elias extended their point streaks to seven games...The Rangers are just 3-5-1 in their last nine games and went 0-2-1 on the three-game homestand.