NEWARK, N.J. – If Scott Gomez’s ribs were still sore during the New York Rangers’ playoff opener, he transferred every bit of that discomfort to the team that let him get away.
In his first post-season game against the Devils – the club the all-star forward grew up with – Gomez had three assists in the New York Rangers’ 4-1 win over New Jersey on Wednesday night.
Gomez matched his point total from the final six games of the regular season after he returned to the lineup following a one-game absence that was caused by a rib injury sustained March 25 in Philadelphia.
At least outwardly, Gomez didn’t express any particular pleasure in tormenting the Devils.
“It’s the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who you play,” he said. “It could have been any team. As you get older, the years go by faster.
“I’ve got a lot of friends over there, but the way you’re raised over there, it doesn’t matter who’s in the way. There were no extra emotions.”
The winning goal came off a gaffe by goalie Martin Brodeur, who played his 154th consecutive playoff game for the Devils. Ryan Callahan surprised him with a scoring swoop around the net in the third period, and the Rangers wrested away home-ice advantage.
Callahan’s shot off a drop pass from Gomez, trickled tantalizingly in the crease as Brodeur moved slowly to corral it. Callahan followed his short-handed shot and flew in front near the left post to bang the puck in at 7:23, with 1 second left on a Devils power play.
“I was trying to get there as quick as possible,” Callahan said. “A lot of times, he makes the good play. … It’s not too often he’s going to mishandle it. I was just lucky enough to be there when he did.”
Until then, the Rangers hadn’t recorded a shot in the third.
“(Callahan) was the first one to take the shot, and I was only looking at Gomer,” Brodeur said of his longtime teammate. “I didn’t know he was around. You have to freeze that. It’s not the way I play. I like to keep the play moving. I made a mistake, and I cost us.”
Gomez earned his third assist when his pass hit the skate of New Jersey forward Sergei Brylin and came right to Sean Avery for a goal with 2:53 left.
With that, the Rangers, who went 7-0-1 against New Jersey in the regular season, grabbed the home-ice advantage the Devils earned with a shootout win over the Rangers on Sunday.
Gomez, who had 21 goals and 44 assists in 97 playoff games with New Jersey before signing with the Rangers last summer, heard boss every time he touched the puck. The only goal he didn’t have a hand in was Nigel Dawes’ empty-netter in the final seconds.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him coming into this series,” said Brendan Shanahan, who, like Gomez, was a first-round pick of the Devils. “The big thing on his mind is getting a win. I’m sure it’s satisfying for him to get off to a good start.”
Shanahan staked New York to a 1-0 lead early in the second period.
Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves, including point-blank stops against Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Paul Martin scored a power-play goal and Brodeur stopped 24 shots for the Devils, who’ll host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series Friday. The Rangers had lost 11 of 12 series openers, dating to the 1994 conference finals against New Jersey.
After surviving a scoreless first period in which they were as erratic with their puck-handling as their passing, the Rangers grabbed a 1-0 lead 1:45 into the second.
Avery, who forced two of New Jersey’s first three penalties, got the puck to Gomez. He split two Devils defenders at the blue-line and sent a pass to Shanahan above the right circle. With Gomez crossing in front of Brodeur, Shanahan scored his 59th career playoff goal.
New Jersey used its second man-advantage to get even. With Gomez off for hooking, Martin scored his first NHL playoff goal in his 26th game.
The Devils pressured the Rangers throughout the power play and worked to take advantage of forward Martin Straka, who tried to defend without a stick. Elias got to a loose puck and sent it to Martin in the right circle for a shot that beat Lundqvist at 14:14.
The defenceman scored five goals in the regular season, but had none since tallying two against Carolina on Feb. 9.
Although the opening 20 minutes failed to produce a goal, there was plenty of action and a few near-misses to excite the crowd dominated by Devils red with a healthy amount of Rangers blue.
Alternating cheers and chants supporting and disparaging the cross-river rivals filled the Prudential Center as the less-than-year-old building hosted its first playoff game.
New York outscored the Devils 17-9 during the regular season. Three of the eight meetings were decided by two goals, and the Rangers won three after regulation – including two in shootouts.
Notes: Shanahan is fourth among active players in post-season goals. … Devils D Bryce Salvador returned to the lineup after missing 10 games due to a sore foot. … New York D Paul Mara and LW Ryan Hollweg rejoined the Rangers’ lineup after sitting out the regular-season finale.