There aren't too many midseason NHL games that carry a playoff-like atmosphere.
Tonight at the Prudential Center was one of those rare times. The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils met for the first time this season, a mere three points separating the surging Devils and middling Rangers in the standings.
The Devils hopped out to an early lead, but the Rangers scored four unanswered goals en route to a 4-1 road win tonight. The Rangers snapped the Devils four-game win streak and moved five points ahead of their rivals in the standings.
"It was a pretty intense game," Ilya Kovalchuk told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We made more mistakes than them and that's why we lost the game. We're going to have to take all the positives and move forward."
New Jersey has lost five of their last seven games against the Rangers, scoring one goal or less in those games.
Travis Zajac staked the Devils to a 1-0 lead in the first period. Matt Taormina let a wrist shot go from the top of the right circle that Henrik Lundqvist stopped with his right arm. The puck dropped to his left, where Petr Sykora found it. He missed the opportunity to put home the rebound, but Zajac pushed it past the Rangers goalie for his first goal of the season.
For most of the second period, it looked like that goal would stand. The Rangers missed chances, putting shots off the post three different times. But, with 2:32 remaining in the middle frame, Artem Anisimov would break the shutout streak.
Derek Stepan carried the puck into the Devils zone along the right side boards, skating down near the middle of the circle. He threw a backhanded, spin-o-rama pass to the front of the net. Devils defenseman Kurtis Foster got part of his stick on it, and it bounced right to a cutting Anisimov, who put his shot past Martin Brodeur for his seventh goal of the season.
Marian Gaborik, playing in his first game of the Hudson River rivalry, broke the tie at 4:45 of the third period. Anisimov sent a backhand shot on net from the bottom of the right circle that snuck between Brodeur's chest protector and arm. Gaborik tapped home the loose puck for his 18th goal of the season.
Brodeur said that the Rangers scored the important goal the Devils needed.
"They got that second goal and that was an important goal in the game," the Devils goalie told Gulitti. "We played really hard in the game. We competed hard, we had a lot of chances. We just couldn't put the puck in net. That's it."
After that, Lundqvist buckled down, turning away the Devils. He stopped 30 shots and lowered his career goals-against average against New Jersey to 1.85.
The Rangers padded the lead, scoring two more in the final period. Carl Hagelin tallied his fourth goal of the season while New York was shorthanded, beating Brodeur on a breakaway. It was the Devils 10th shorthanded goal allowed, the most of any team in the league.
Gaborik scored his second goal of the game at the 19:56 mark, firing the puck into an empty net for his 19th goal of the season.
After the game, the Devils said they needed to capitalize on their early opportunities.
"A lot of us had chances, myself included, and you put that in and it's a different game," David Clarkson told Gulitti. "It's tough, a tough loss for us."
Now the Devils will need to wait until January to even up the series. Brodeur admitted his team dropped a golden opportunity to get the upper hand on their rivals.
"When we play them, especially the first game of the (season_, it's always an opportunity to try to get the upper hand early in the season series against them," Brodeur told Gulitti. "So, definitely we let the first one go. I thought we competed really hard. We just didn't get the goal that we needed early to break the game open."