EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker)—The million dollar players are seeking the answer to the million dollar question.
Martin Brodeur made a spectacular save among his 15, helping the Devils clinch a playoff spot. They also maintained a three-point lead over second-place Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division.
The Rangers aren’t close. They are fading from postseason contention, despite having a star-studded roster and the highest payroll in the NHL.
Desperation has not helped the Rangers, who have lost three straight games (0-2-0-1) to fall seven points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference.
“They know how desperate we are and know where we are in the standings,” said New York coach Glen Sather, whose team has just nine games remaining. “Whether it’s nerves, that’s a million dollar question at this stage.”
The Rangers failed to take advantage of two great scoring chances in the first period and fell behind 3:04 into the second when Elias banked a shot from behind the goal line off goaltender Mike Dunham’s left shoulder and into the net.
It was the 20th goal of the season for Elias, whose team is 16-1-2 in its last 19 home meetings with the Rangers.
“I felt good out there,” Elias said. “I get ready for games like these and I love to play the Rangers. I just went out there with one thing in mind, and that’s to beat them.”
While Dunham kept the Rangers close with some steady play, Brodeur single-handedly preserved the lead, making a spectacular glove save on former teammate Bobby Holik’s snap shot from the low slot with his pads stacked.
“I tried to rush him and just go down and put my hands and gloves up,” Brodeur said. “He made a great shot, but he put it in the middle of the net, so that made it a little easier.”
“He has seen me score lots of goals in the last 10 years,” said Holik, who left New Jersey last summer via free agency. “He got the edge of the catching glove on it. In all the games we’ve played against them, he’s been the best player.”
Still trailing by a goal, the Rangers had a power play early in the third period, but Elias dropped a pass at the left post as he skated behind the net, and Pascal Rheaume snuck it past Dunham on the short side for a 2-0 lead.
“I told him there are only two guys in the league right now to get that pass, and that’s Petr (Sykora) and him,” Elias said, referring to his former linemate.
Defenseman Scott Stevens beat Dunham with a slap shot from the point 4:16 into the third to make it 3-0 and send the Rangers closer to the offseason, much to the delight of their fans.
“I think I heard some fans in the last week and they were saying we gotta beat the Rangers and keep them out of the playoffs,” Brodeur said. “When you come through and see the same people, I hope they will be happy.”
“Don’t look at the names,” said Holik, one of 10 Rangers collecting at least $3 million this season. “Look at the overall team effort. They were the better team tonight.”