NEW YORK -- It was not about payback for the New York Rangers.
It was about giving themselves a chance to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"We weren't thinking about last year. This is a totally different year and we're trying to fight for our lives," Ryan McDonagh said after the New York Rangers' 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
New York improved to 24-17-4 this season. The Rangers and the Ottawa Senators have 52 points, but New York is still in eighth place in the Eastern Conference despite the win. Ottawa is in seventh. New York has one more win than Ottawa, but the Senators do have two fewer losses and have a game in hand.
The Rangers. who were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals last year by the Devils, have won three in a row and six of their last eight games. Since the April 3 trade deadline in which the Rangers acquired Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett, New York is 7-2-1.
"It gave us more lines and it has allowed us to have a little more consistency in the middle of our lineup," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the trade that sent Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brassard, Moore and Dorsett. New York acquired Clowe from the San Jose Sharks on April 2 for second- and third-round draft picks in June and a conditional selection in 2014.
"These guys have come in and added some more grind to our game, more skill. I thought it was a good deal for both teams."
Eight Rangers finished with at least one point, led by Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards, who each finished with two points. Callahan scored two goals, and Stepan and Taylor Pyatt each added one.
"We had some puck luck around the net," Pyatt said.
His goal gave New York a 3-0 midway through the second period. The goal was his fifth of the season and his first since Feb. 26.
"The confidence comes back and everyone feels a little bit better about themselves," Pyatt said. "We've played some good hockey the last few games."
Among the key components to New York's improved play has been Richards, who has seven points in the last three games. It is only his third such stretch of multi-point games this season.
"Hopefully, they keep coming," Richards said. "My game hasn't been that much different."
Callahan opened the scoring 34 seconds into the game when he banked a Carl Hagelin pass off goalie Martin Brodeur's skate for the game's first goal.
Stepan's goal 11:26 later was the game-winner. He tipped Ryan McDonagh's centering pass past Brodeur.
"That was a big deal for us, making sure we score the first goal," Callahan said of New York's start.
The Rangers led 2-0 at the first intermission and were up 4-0 early in the third period.
Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves for the Rangers. His lone mistake was yielding Andrei Loktionov goal with 6:30 left.
The loss eliminated the reigning Eastern Conference champions from Stanley Cup playoff contention. The Devils have missed the playoffs only four times in the last 25 seasons.
New Jersey fell to 17-18-10 this season.
"There was frustration," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "It's obviously not the way you want to go out. But that's how it ends for us. We will have to regroup and move forward.
"It hasn't sunk in it. I think you don't want to think about it until it's actually a reality. No other word but disappointment."
NOTES: The Rangers skated with the same lineup as the one that scored 14 goals in its previous two games, both wins. ... Lundqvist made his 11th straight start in goal. He entered the game having played in 39 of the Rangers' 45 games. ... Brodeur entered the game with a record of 47-29-20 and nine shutouts along with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in 96 games against the Rangers. ... New York scratched Brian Boyle and defensemen Matt Gilroy and Roman Hamrlik. ... DeBoer announced that defenseman Anton Volchenkov and Andrei Loktionov replaced Mark Fayne and Jacob Josefson. Krystofer Barch, Tom Kostopoulos, Bryce Salvador, Steve Sullivan and Alexander Urbom were also scratched. ... New York will finish the road portion of its regular season with games at Florida on Tuesday and at Carolina on Thursday. ... New Jersey has two home games remaining this season, on Tuesday against Montreal and Thursday against Pittsburgh. New York and New Jersey will culminate the season series on Apr. 27 at The Garden. The Rangers entered the game with an all-time record of 102-85-27-6 against the Devils. ...New Jersey was assessed two minor penalties for abuse of officials and unsportsmanlike conduct, and DeBoer was given a game-misconduct late in the third period. "You can't do that in the last seconds in front of everybody," Ilya Kovalchuk said of referees Chris Rooney and Francois St. Laurent ejecting DeBoer. "Fifteen seconds left, you don't have to put on a show."