NEWARK, N.J. – All the New York Rangers needed to regain their confidence and get back in the playoff hunt was two wins in two nights.
That is how tight the NHL is in this lockout-shortened season.
Michael Del Zotto scored a short-handed goal and set up Rick Nash’s game winner to lead the Rangers to a 3-2 win over the Devils on Tuesday night, moving them into a tie with New Jersey for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“The game last night meant nothing if we didn’t follow up with two points again tonight,” Del Zotto said, referring to New York’s 2-1 shootout win over Carolina on Monday. “It was huge. A lot of momentum swings, and we have to keep this rolling here.”
The wins came on the heels of a three-game losing streak for the Rangers, who also have a game in hand on New Jersey.
“Guys are getting more confidence back,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “We’re getting back to playing the style we want to play. It shows on the ice. It’s two points, and now we have to move on.”
Carl Hagelin also scored for the Rangers, and Henrik Lundqvist had 29 saves, including three spectacular stops during a second-period power play that preceded Nash’s deciding goal.
“You try to play with a short memory, you have to,” Lundqvist said. “The games come up so fast. Sometimes you can’t really tell why it turns around for you. You just have to keep working hard and hopefully good things will happen.
“We have to improve and play even better if we’re going to be in the playoffs. These were two good games we can build on.”
The Devils also have to move on, but they need to change direction after losing their third straight (0-2-1) and for the 10th time (3-8-2) since goalie Martin Brodeur went down with a pinched nerve in his back.
Brodeur was on the bench for the first time since being injured, and the league’s career leader in wins hopes to start on Thursday in Carolina.
“We’ve got enough here to win more games than we have been winning lately,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. ‘We have to get the job done.”
Travis Zajac and Anton Volchenkov scored for New Jersey, which again outshot its opponent but had trouble scoring. The Devils have four goals in the losing streak.
“We did everything except score when we needed to,” Zajac said. “It was a pretty good game from our team. You can’t fault our effort today. We didn’t score. We had our chances but didn’t get the bounce.”
By Rangers-Devils standards, this game was wide open and had its share of miscues and great saves by Lundqvist and Johan Hedberg, who started all 13 games since Brodeur last played on Feb. 21.
Nash’s goal might have been one of the mistakes by Hedberg, who helped set up Del Zotto’s third goal of the season by playing the puck near his bench on a power play.
Nash’s team-high 10th goal came on a counterattack shortly after Lundqvist made saves on a blast by Ilya Kovalchuk, a backhander by Steve Bernier on the rebound and an in-close rebound by Alexei Ponikarovsky with Rangers defenceman Anton Stralman in the penalty box.
Del Zotto found Nash on the right wing, and the big forward skated into the Devils zone and beat Hedberg with a shot from the right circle at 7:25 to break a 2-all tie
“He (Lundqvist) definitely gave us the momentum, coming off a penalty kill,” Nash said. “Del Zotto made a great play up the ice and sent me and Richards on a two-on-one. The D man was kind of cheating the pass so I thought I would shoot.”
New Jersey had about five good chances to tie it but Lundqvist stoned them, making a great stop on David Clarkson from between the circles in the second period and stopping a couple of slap shots by Kovalchuk on a third-period power play. He also made a save on Patrik Elias in the final minute.
The Rangers, who hadn’t scored two goals in regulation in their previous four games, scored twice in the first period, but the Devils tied it on goals by slumping players.
Shortly after Kovalchuk banged a power-play shot off the post, Del Zotto swatted a shoulder-high pass from the corner by Derek Stepan into the net at 11:49 for New York’s third short-handed goal of the season.
The Devils’ second power play was more productive, and a little bit luckier at 15:15. A shot from the point by Peter Harrold was partially blocked. Del Zotto tried to kick the puck to the corner, but it went to Zajac’s stick in the right circle for his first goal in 11 games.
New York took the lead again less than two minutes later on Hagelin’s eighth goal.
It also was a little lucky.
Dan Girardi’s shot from the right point was wide of the net but it bounced off the end boards right to Hagelin on the left doorstep for a stuff-in.
Volchenkov tied it 2-2 just 23 seconds later with a shot from the left point that found its way past about five players and Lundqvist. It was the Russian’s first goal in 36 games, dating to last season, and his 19th goal in a decade in the NHL.
NOTES: Del Zotto’s goal was his 100th NHL point. … Defencemen Stu Bickel and Matt Gilroy were healthy scratches for the Rangers. … Devils C Andrei Loktionov (undisclosed injury) hopes to be back in the lineup in Carolina on Thursday. … Devils D Marek Zidlicky played in his 600th NHL game. …Ponikarovsky left the game in the second period with an undisclosed injury.