NEWARK, N.J. -- To a man, the New York Rangers knew just how critical Tuesday night's game with the rival New Jersey Devils was, but no one knew it more than Henrik Lundqvist.
"We needed this," said Lundqvist, the All-Star goaltender, who made 29 saves, several of which were acrobatic stops, leading the Rangers to a 3-2 win over the Devils at the Prudential Center.
"I was upset about my play. We had a good start and let the lead get away. Once the game got to 2-2, I knew that the next goal would win it. That's just the way I felt. I wasn't going to let up another one."
Fortunately for Lundqvist and the Rangers, Rick Nash scored the goal that broke the 2-2 tie in the second period, his 10th of the year, giving the Rangers the win that enabled the Rangers (15-12-2) to draw even with the Devils (13-11-6) in the Eastern Conference standings. The two rivals now have 32 points.
After losing three straight and four out of five, the Rangers have turned things around, winning two straight in two days. The Devils lost for the third straight time.
Nash broke out of a slump and scored for the first time in the last six games.
"I liked the chances we were getting, so we just needed one to go in," said Nash, who was acquired in an off-season trade with Columbus and was supposed to be the final piece in the Rangers' puzzle, making them Stanley Cup contenders. "The last game here was disappointing (a 3-1 loss), so we had to get back to basics. We stuck with it and got the goal. (Michael) Del Zotto gave me a great pass. This was a big win, because it gives us a little momentum."
Del Zotto had a goal and an assist, and Carl Hagelin also scored a goal for the Rangers.
Lundqvist made several acrobatic saves to protect the lead from the middle of the second period to earn his 13th victory of the season.
Travis Zajac also broke out of a slump by scoring a first-period goal for the Devils. Anton Volchenkov scored his first goal of the season, also in the first period.
After an uneventful first 10 minutes, the first period was a wild, wide-open affair with both teams scoring two goals each.
The game's first goal came off a totally bizarre series of events. Ilya Kovalchuk fired a slap shot that Lundqvist never saw. It apparently hit the crossbar and went straight down. It appeared as if it went over the line, but play continued down to the Devils' end of the ice.
There, Devils goalie Johan Hedberg badly mishandled the puck and came 25 feet out of the net to try to field it. Derek Stepan made an alert play and took it away from Hedberg, then waited for his short-handed teammates to arrive. Stepan then lifted the puck toward the goal, and it looked as if he was able to push it above Hedberg's shoulder, but the official scorer gave the goal to Del Zotto on the rebound instead.
"I was trying to get the puck toward the net," said Stepan, who donned the black Broadway fedora, symbolic of being the Ranger players' choice for player of the game. "I saw Michael coming back and it went in. I think it was his goal, but it was a big goal for us."
Del Zotto's third goal of the season gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at the 11:49 mark.
"I think we all had to take a step back and realize what makes us successful," Del Zotto said. "The last couple of games, we were able to carry the puck a little more."
The Devils tied the game with four minutes left on Zajac's first goal in 11 games and his fifth on the season.
Then the Rangers regained the lead just 1:35 after Zajac's goal when Dan Girardi, fired the puck off the boards behind the goal, right to Hagelin, who poked it home for his eighth goal of the season.
The Devils tied the game 23 seconds later, when Volchenkov fired a high shot to Lundqvist's shoulder that seemed to handcuff the goalie. It was Volchenkov's first goal since March 11, 2012, a span of 35 games.
In the second period, the Devils had a good opportunity to take the lead when Anton Strelman was called for a tripping penalty. However, Lundqvist came up huge, making three acrobatic, diving saves to keep the Devils off the board.
Seconds after the penalty expired, Nash skated in alone on the right side and fired a wrist shot past Hedberg to the left at 7:25, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
Lundqvist continued to be brilliant in net, making an incredible save on Patrik Elias with 11:02 remaining in the period. He made 13 saves alone in the second period, protecting the Rangers' 3-2 lead after two.
"We had a lot of chances and couldn't capitalize on them," Devils center Adam Henrique said. "The chances were there. We just have to keep moving forward and can't dwell on these losses. We'll bounce back hopefully."
Good news for the Devils is that they won't see Lundqvist again until April 21.
NOTES: The Devils welcomed back a familiar face to the roster before the game, as the team activated future Hall of Fame goalkeeper Martin Brodeur off the injured list. Brodeur, who missed the last 12 games because of a bad back, dressed for the game, but only to serve as Hedberg's backup. "I'll be fine," Brodeur said before the game. "I practiced hard again. I felt good this morning when I woke up and felt good on the ice again, so I'm fine now. I'm getting better and better every day."... To activate Brodeur, the Devils sent Jeff Frazee back to Albany, who only saw limited action, as Hedberg started all 12 of the games Brodeur missed and started again Tuesday night. ... Center Andrei Loktionov, who missed the last two games with an unspecified injury, was scratched again Tuesday, although he did skate regularly during practice sessions Monday and Tuesday. ... The Devils finally gave in and sent little-used rookie left wing Stefan Matteau back to his junior team, Blainvile-Boisbriand of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The 19-year-old Matteau, the team's first-round pick in 2012, had one goal and two assists in 17 games this season. He had been a healthy scratch in each of the three prior games prior to getting sent down. ... The goal by Del Zotto was his 100th career point. ... Lundqvist holds a 26-12-5 career record with six shutouts against the Devils.