Ushered out of their first postseason appearance in nine years by their cross-river rivals in 2006, the Rangers finished off the Devils with a 5-3 victory Friday night.
“It is poetic justice to a degree,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said.
The Rangers rocked the Devils’ house like no other team and rolled right into the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They trailed for 18 seconds in the first period before scoring four straight times and then holding on.
New Jersey’s John Madden was awarded a penalty shot with 7:08 left in the third period after Dan Girardi dragged him down with a sweeping dive with his stick. Madden couldn’t net the tying goal when his backhander was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist’s pads.
“I missed it,” Madden said. “I missed the opportunity between his legs. He stopped it. There isn’t much to say.”
Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr didn’t even bother to watch it, certain that Lundqvist would keep New York in front.
“That’s what makes him special,” Jagr said. “In the key situations he comes up big. That was a pressure moment, and he did it.”
Brandon Dubinsky sealed New York’s second straight 5-3 win with an empty-net goal.
Never had a team won three road games against New Jersey in a playoff series, but the Rangers did it in the first season at the Devils’ new arena, Prudential Center, affectionately known as “The Rock.”
New York took the first two on the road before splitting two at Madison Square Garden. The Devils closed the regular season with a 4-5-1 skid, each of their wins coming after regulation.
“You don’t want to limp into the playoffs, and we did,” forward Jay Pandolfo said. “We had a tough last couple weeks of the regular season and we stayed the same way through the playoffs.”
The Rangers beat New Jersey seven of eight times in the regular season, with the only loss coming on the final day when the Devils secured home-ice advantage.
It was anything but.
After Brian Gionta gave the Devils a 1-0 lead 4:40 in, Michal Rozsival answered at 4:58. Jagr and former New Jersey star Scott Gomez scored to make it 3-1 for New York, outshot 9-7 in the first period that was played largely in the Rangers zone.
Chris Drury pushed the lead to 4-1 early in the second, but a freak goal from the neutral zone by Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador and Patrik Elias’ 5-on-3 tally cut the deficit to one before the middle period expired.
“It wasn’t easy,” Jagr said. “You feel like it’s over, then they score those two goals. I’m not saying you’re scared, but it wasn’t good.”
The Devils outshot the Rangers 11-3 in the third and pressed heavily throughout.
When it was over, Rangers agitator Sean Avery and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur had one more confrontation, this time in the handshake line. Avery, who crashed into Brodeur several times in the series and tried to distract him by waving his stick in the goalie’s face in Game 3, was the only player Brodeur didn’t extend his hand to.
“I shook everybody’s hand but one,” Brodeur said.
Avery said he was fully prepared to reach out to Brodeur.
“Everyone talks about how much class I don’t have, well it’s the end of the series and men go to war against each other,” Avery said. “I guess he forgot to shake my hand. I don’t know if anyone saw that. Of course I was going to shake his hand.”
The Rangers scored more than four goals only once against Brodeur in the regular season, but they did it in back-to-back wins in this series to finish off the Devils. The home team won just one of the five games, New York’s 5-3 victory on Wednesday that gave the Rangers a 3-1 series edge.
“It was a close call,” Lundqvist said. “We had 4-1 and we felt great and they got two quick goals there and they’re back in it.”
New York, in the second round for the second consecutive season after a 10-year absence, will have to wait for other Eastern matchups to end to find out its opponent.
With the Rangers three goals ahead and the building quiet, Salvador’s unorthodox goal at 9:26 of the second gave the Devils new life.
Salvador wound up for a drive between the blue line and center ice circle. Dubinsky raised his arm to shield his face, and was struck by the puck. It then took a hop and hit the post before caroming into the net off Lundqvist.
Dubinsky and defenseman Marc Staal took penalties 29 seconds apart to give New Jersey a two-man power play. Elias struck with a little help from the Rangers.
Fedor Tyutin took a backhanded swipe in front and whiffed. Elias smacked the puck, which struck Tyutin’s leg and found the net with 6:10 left in the period.
Gionta sparked the home crowd with his first of the series, but Rozsival tied it with his first before Gionta’s was even announced.
Jagr made it 2-1 at 6:38. Gomez, in his first season with New York, tormented his former teammates again with his third at 18:01.
Drury took Nigel Dawes’ long feed from the left-wing boards to the right circle and snapped a shot past Brodeur at 5:35.
“The turning point of the game was the shift right after we scored,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We had the momentum for 20 seconds or something like that … bang bang and you’re down 3-1.”
This was the only time in the series that the team that scored first lost. … The Rangers outscored the Devils 19-10 in the five games after a 17-9 edge in the regular season. … New York has beaten New Jersey in four of five playoff series.