NEWARK, N.J. – The struggling New Jersey Devils aren’t going to let playoff security turn into complacency.
Coming off a disappointing Western trip following the Olympic break, the Devils faced their problems head-on during a team meeting before their first home game in nearly a month.
Whatever was said sure paid dividends. Rob Niedermayer, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac each had a goal and assist in the Devils’ 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
New Jersey lost at Calgary and was shut out at cellar-dwelling Edmonton after opening the trip with a win at San Jose.
“Just the way we played and the way we bounced back from a pretty sub-par road trip was good,” Parise said. “We played a much better game and the feeling is a lot better than it has been. It’s nice to spent a little time at home and get some rest.”
The Devils are solidly in playoff position despite sitting three points behind Pittsburgh in the race for the Atlantic Division title. New Jersey has a game in hand and will host the Penguins on Friday and again five days later.
They didn’t hand all the credit to Tuesday’s clear-the-air session, but getting together as a team before the final stretch of the regular season appeared to strengthen the cohesiveness.
“I think the intensity and caring of each other was a little higher,” said Martin Brodeur, who made 16 saves. “You could see everyone stuck together and we pulled through this with a big win.”
Bryce Salvador also scored for the Devils, who matched a season high in goals and never trailed in winning for the fourth time in 12 games (4-7-1). New Jersey chased Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist when Rolston made it 5-3 late in the second period.
“Once you hit a certain point there is nowhere to go but up,” captain Langenbrunner said. “It got our focus going in the right direction. I don’t know who said it in the meeting but we’ve just been waiting for something to happen good.”
Vinny Prospal, Erik Christensen, and Brandon Prust scored for the Rangers, who have lost four straight (0-2-2) after a three-game winning streak. New York is ninth in the Eastern Conference and three points behind Boston, which has played two fewer games.
“We played in spurts as we’ve done for most of the year. We’ve been inconsistent,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We have to grow up. We have to stay strong here. We know where we’re at.”
New Jersey grabbed 1-0 and 2-1 advantages in the first and went ahead again 3-2 in the second. After New York tied it a third time with a rare goal from the fourth-liner Prust, Langenbrunner and Rolston scored 2:13 apart to put it away.
Lundqvist was pulled for the third time this season, but it was his first benching in 29 career games against the Devils. Once he got to the bench, the Swedish Olympian flung off a towel that a trainer draped over his shoulder.
“It was a tough night,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t think I should analyze it too much. Just try to move on.”
It was hard to fault Lundqvist for much of the barrage that produced five goals on 17 shots. Salvador’s goal that made it 2-1 with 1:43 left in the first deflected in off the stick of Rangers forward Olli Jokinen.
The final goal Lundqvist allowed came at the end of a slow-developing 3-on-1 rush. Rolston’s shot hit the stick of diving defenceman Dan Girardi and found its way in with 4:41 left in the second. That ended Lundqvist’s night.
Zajac beat backup Alex Auld with 3:39 left to make it 6-3.
Niedermayer got the offence rolling 4:16 into the Devils’ first home game since Feb. 12, but the Rangers got even 57 seconds later when Prospal finished off a brilliant three-way passing play started by Jokinen and Marian Gaborik. Christensen darted through the zone to make it 2-2 at 5:01.
Rolston fired a shot from the dot in the left circle that bounced off Lundqvist. Zajac got his stick on it, and Dainius Zubrus got off another shot that Lundqvist blocked. Parise knocked in the rebound with a backhander to make it 3-2 at 8:38 – 15 seconds into New Jersey’s first power play.
The Rangers bounced back again 37 seconds later on Prust’s second of the season, but first with the Rangers in 11 games.
New York’s three-goal outburst exceeded the Rangers’ offensive production in their previous two games when they scored only once in losses to Washington and Buffalo.
NOTES: New Jersey beat the New York Islanders 6-1 on Nov. 28. … Prust scored his first goal since Oct. 1 – 52 games earlier. … Zubrus and defencemen Andy Greene and Mike Mottau all had two assists for New Jersey.