New York, NY (Sports Network) – Ryan McDonagh’s first NHL goal gave the Rangers the lead during a three-goal second period, as New York kept its playoff hopes alive — for at least a few hours — with a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.
Wojtek Wolski and Brandon Prust also scored during the second period for the Rangers (44-33-5), who played their final regular-season game and still need help to qualify for the postseason. If Carolina beats Tampa Bay tonight in Raleigh, the Hurricanes will claim the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and the Rangers will be home for the second straight year.
Last spring it came down to the final game, as the Rangers lost to Philadelphia in a shootout and missed the playoffs. The Rangers were among the top eight teams in the East for most of this season and controlled their own playoff destiny until a demoralizing 3-0 loss to Atlanta on Thursday.
A loss to the Devils would have ended New York’s season regardless of Carolina’s outcome and Ilya Kovalchuk tried to make it happen with a goal and an assist in the first period for New Jersey, which will conclude its season on Sunday against Boston. The Devils were officially eliminated from postseason contention last week after a strong second-half run and will finish with a losing record for the first time since the 1990-91 season.
Nick Palmieri also scored for the Devils and Martin Brodeur made 24 saves in defeat.
Chris Drury returned for the Rangers after being sidelined since early February with a knee injury and contributed his first goal of the season to erase an early New Jersey lead. Vinny Prospal chipped in a goal and an assist for New York, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots.
“I think last year was really tough,” said Lundqvist. “It is hard to be satisfied or disappointed right now. If we are in, I think it is a great year. If not, you cannot be happy about the year. We will see.”
The Rangers trailed 2-1 after the opening period, but tied it just 1:52 into the second. The Devils were caught in a bad line change, leading to a 2-on-1 break, and Wolski fired a shot from the left circle past Brodeur on the short side for his 12th goal.
McDonagh gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with just over eight minutes left in the period. Marian Gaborik sent the puck behind the net for Prospal, who spotted McDonagh alone in the right circle and the young defenseman snapped a shot past Brodeur’s glove.
Prust then slipped a rebound past Brodeur to make it 4-2 with 3:54 remaining in the stanza. Brodeur stopped Brandon Dubinsky’s weak shot from above the left circle, but he was unable to control it and Prust managed to sneak the puck past the netminder for his 13th goal.
“They had a little slow start, but they picked it up in the second,” said Brodeur.
The Rangers tacked on one more midway through the third on another bad New Jersey line change. Dan Girardi took advantage and made a great outlet pass to spring a 2-on-1 break, and Prospal converted a perfect feed from Artem Anisimov for his ninth goal.
“We had two bad changes and they scored on [them],” said Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire. “Aside from that, I thought the guys played hard.”
The Devils scored just over two minutes into the game and silenced the crowd when Palmieri deflected a Kovalchuk shot past Lundqvist, but Drury made his presence felt just over a minute later when he backhanded a shot between Brodeur’s legs.
“You don’t want to give them a chance to get comfortable with the lead and build momentum off of it,” Drury said about his goal. “Any time you give up a goal you try to respond the right way and as fast as you can.”
Kovalchuk made it 2-1 with just 42 seconds left in the opening period. He corralled a pass in the left circle, slipped around a check and fired a shot that went through the legs of a Rangers defender before going over Lundqvist’s shoulder.
Neither team had a power play, as the only penalties called were coincidental minors in the second period…New Jersey’s Travis Zajac played in his 400th consecutive game and contributed an assist…Brodeur has a record of 23-26-3 this season and will finish below .500 for the first time in his career…The Rangers captured the season series, 4-2…New York finished 20-17-4 at home.