NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New Jersey Devils no longer have to look up to see every other NHL team.
A gut-wrenching 3-2 win over the rival New York Rangers on Thursday night pushed the perennial playoff contenders out of the cellar and gave them a glimmer of hope for the final stretch of the season.
But a 14th straight trip to the postseason is still a long shot, at best.
Dainius Zubrus had a goal and an assist for the Devils, who jumped over Edmonton and the New York Islanders in the overall NHL standings.
New Jersey is 8-1-1 in its past 10 games, but still 18 points behind eighth-place Atlanta in the Eastern Conference race with 31 games remaining.
“We have to start catching up to teams and bringing them behind us,” said Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves. “It’s going to be a long process.
“Hopefully, we’ll keep what’s going on now going. It’s nice, for now, to not see your name in the 15th spot.”
The Rangers are sitting in seventh place and trying to get back into the playoffs after a one-year absence. An 0-2-1 skid has left them with a six-point cushion over ninth-place Carolina.
New York coach John Tortorella laid most of the blame for the losses to Florida, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey on all-star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled Thursday in the second period after he allowed three Devils goals on 12 shots.
“Our goaltending hasn’t been there—certainly not at the level it needs to be this time of year,” Tortorella said. “These three games we had chances to win.
“I’m not calling out Hank, but I need to be honest. Our goaltending hasn’t been good enough, and we’ve played some good hockey. I think we probably get five out of the six points if it’s just decent goaltending.”
Lundqvist was victimized by two goals in the Florida game that went in off Rangers forward Artem Anisimov and he thwarted six straight Pittsburgh players in a seven-round shootout that New York lost 1-0.
However, he was quite displeased with his latest performance.
“I’m upset for not playing better. I’m not upset about getting pulled,” Lundqvist said. “I feel low on the energy level and need to get going. We need more saves from the goalie.”
Zubrus set up Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal in the first period and scored along with Brian Rolston in the second to give the Devils a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead.
Ryan Callahan and Vinny Prospal, in his season debut after recovering from off-season knee surgery, got the Rangers close, but Brodeur hung on for the Devils (18-30-3), who moved one point ahead of Edmonton and tied the Islanders.
“We are confident now in how we’re playing, but we’re still pretty far down,” Rolston said.
The Devils, outshot 27-18, lost the first three meetings this season to New York and were outscored 9-2.
Prospal brought the Rangers within 3-2 by scoring during New York’s 5-on-3 power play 2:21 into the third period. New York had a pair of failed power plays after that advantage.
Even with all of that, Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi nearly tied it with 0.8 seconds left, but his shot was deflected off the right post.
“The way we played, we should’ve scored the third goal way before that,” Prospal said.
Kovalchuk connected on New Jersey’s first shot to give the Devils the lead 1:04 in. Zubrus set him up for his 300th NHL assist.
The teams combined for only 12 shots in the first period—seven for the Rangers.
Lundqvist faced little action and appeared to be shaky on the few shots that came his way. He was rattled midway through the first when he gloved another hard drive by Kovalchuk that briefly stung his catching hand.
In the second, the Devils continued to show how they are making a second-half surge after one of the worst starts in team history and stretched their lead to 3-0.
Zubrus finished off the next scoring play with a sizzling shot from the high slot that Lundqvist initially stopped. The puck got behind him and trickled tantalizingly toward the goal-line.
Girardi tried to sweep the puck safely out of the crease, but knocked it in off Lundqvist at 8:01.
New Jersey got more assistance from the Rangers 7:03 later when Mats Zuccarello failed to clear the puck out of the zone. All-star Patrik Elias sent a soft pass to Rolston, who fired a shot that sailed past Lundqvist.
The Rangers’ goalie was left sitting in the crease. When he got up, he was summoned to the bench and replaced by Martin Biron. New York got on the board with Callahan’s 12th with 3:35 left in the second.
Callahan has scored in both games since he returned after missing 19 games because of a broken hand.
NOTES—Brodeur has played 1,029 complete games, the same number of total appearances Patrick Roy made. … The Rangers sent C Kris Newbury to Connecticut of the AHL.