NEW YORK -- As the New York Rangers prepared to host the New Jersey Devils on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the home team made a special effort to remind the Devils -- and the fans -- what happened the last time the bitter rivals battled for a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1994.
When Monday's game began, the Rangers took a key first step toward achieving a similar result.
Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves, Dan Girardi had the game-winning goal and an assist, and the Rangers turned the heat up in the third period to defeat the Devils 3-0 in the opener of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
All three goals came in the final period.
"We just kept on playing," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We stayed with it."
New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer said, "They got the first goal. It was that type of hockey game. Once they got the first one, we had to open it up a little bit, and that's what happened."
The decisive goal came 53 seconds into the third period. Girardi took a feed at the right point from rookie Chris Kreider and unleashed a hard slap shot that evaded Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto also picked up an assist on the play, his seventh in as many games.
"I saw (Kreider) coming up the wall there," Girardi said, "and I was delaying to see what he was going to do. I saw no one go to the point, and I kind of stepped into it and got it through."
The Rangers doubled their lead with eight minutes remaining on Kreider's third goal of the playoffs. With the Devils' Steve Bernier in the penalty box for boarding, Kreider took a feed from Artem Anisimov in the slot and fired a wrist shot past Brodeur.
Kreider took a hooking penalty just 1:07 later, but the Rangers' penalty kill continued to frustrate the Devils. That was a relief for the rookie from Boston College, who saw his minutes slashed in the middle of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington but came back to play 15:39 on Monday.
"The last thing I want to do is settle in," said Kreider, who played in just his 13th professional game Monday. "I don't want to get complacent, especially at this level."
With 2:07 remaining and the Rangers' lead still at 2-0, the Devils pulled Brodeur for the extra skater. That, however, yielded only an empty-net goal for the Rangers, as Anisimov collected his third goal of the playoffs on assists from Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko. For the Rangers, that capped a night that began with great pomp and circumstance.
Attempting to fire up the crowd before the game, there was a special introduction by the FDNY drum corps and appearances from former Rangers Ron Duguay and Stephane Matteau, with an overt reference to the latter's overtime goal against the Devils in the last game of the 1994 conference finals.
When those festivities concluded, the Rangers and Devils delivered their own fireworks on the ice. Despite the teams' reputations for defense, both sides had their chances early on, including three power plays for the Rangers and two for the Devils.
Brodeur and Lundqvist lived up to their reputations, though, with Brodeur making 18 saves and Lundqvist stopping all 17 shots he saw in the first 40 minutes of play to keep the game scoreless heading into the third period.
"The opportunities, they were definitely there," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We had some right in front, some point-blank ones. What do you do? (Lundqvist) played well."
The second game of the series will be played at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
"We have to be better," Parise said. "We know that, and we will be. We played well for 40 minutes, and that was it. The last 20, we let it slip away a little bit, and they took advantage, and that's the game right there."
NOTES: Devils forward Patrik Elias was struck in the face by a Rangers clearing pass with 2:07 remaining in the first period. He was helped off the ice but later returned to the game. ... Tortorella used his timeout with 6:46 remaining in the second period, immediately following an icing call. ... Former New York Mets and New York Yankees star Darryl Strawberry was in attendance Monday night, along with actors Vince Vaughn, Matthew Modine and Taylor Kitsch. Kitsch, whose "Battleship" co-star Liam Neeson has been a regular presence at Madison Square Garden during the playoffs, played junior hockey with the Langley Hornets of the British Columbia Hockey League, where his teammates included former Bruins, Islanders and Devils forward Ben Walter.