NEWARK, N.J. - The New York Rangers made too many mistakes and played with too little emotion, and the New Jersey Devils made the team at the top of the NHL standings pay for both.
The Devils hit the Rangers hard, dropped the gloves for two fights in the first period, and took over in the third when David Clarkson and Ryan Carter scored 1:54 apart to wake up New Jersey's slumbering offence and carry the club to a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night.
"They hated us tonight," Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. "They wanted to kill us, and we need to match that. In stretches we did, but we need to take a look in the mirror—everyone individually. It's understanding as a group that we disappointed ourselves."
Ill-timed penalties and costly turnovers have crept into the Rangers' game recently as they have stretched their lead in the Eastern Conference by managing to salvage at least one point in many games in which they didn't play particularly well.
A win Sunday over Boston vaulted New York to the top of the NHL standings, but subpar play against the Devils hurt.
"We gathered ourselves in the second period ... but then there were just some details, some turnovers that were just ridiculous that cost us the game," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
Turnovers in the first and third periods led to go-ahead goals by New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk and Clarkson.
Kovalchuk put New Jersey in front 1-0 just 49 seconds in, and Clarkson tipped Petr Sykora's drive to give the Devils the lead for good 2:27 into the third. Martin Brodeur made 25 saves for the Devils, who faced the Rangers in the midst of three games against the New York Islanders in the span of a week that started with a 1-0 loss Sunday.
New Jersey had been shut out in two of its previous four games, including a road loss to the Rangers.
"We were desperate for the points," Kovalchuk said of the Devils (37-24-5), sixth in the Eastern Conference. "This can give us a lot of confidence."
Carter pushed New Jersey ahead by two at 4:21 with his third of the season, and first since Nov. 19—a 37-game drought. Patrik Elias made it 4-1 by scoring into an empty net with 1:53 left.
Carter also fought Brandon Dubinsky in the first period, a bout that knocked the Rangers forward out of the game with a hand injury. Cam Janssen took on hulking John Scott later.
"Carter went out there early and fought ... and Janssen, as well. That's another reason why we won," Clarkson said. "We didn't back down.
"Those two weren't fighting for themselves, or for fun. They went out and did it for the front of the jersey."
Derek Stepan scored New York's lone goal, and Henrik Lundqvist made 25 saves for the Rangers (42-16-7), 2-2-1 against the Devils this season. Stepan got the Rangers even at 1 early in the second when they controlled play.
Right after Lundqvist was bowled over in the crease, the Rangers got the puck up ice. Carl Hagelin worked the puck free behind the Devils net and sent a pass into the high slot to a wide-open Stepan, who smacked the rolling puck into the top left corner to tie it at 6:56.
It was the second straight Rangers goal by Stepan, who netted the winner Sunday.
The Rangers raced to an 11-1 edge in shots over the first 10 minutes of the second period, but nothing else got by Brodeur.
New Jersey rebounded in the second half of the period and generated scoring chances, too, but Lundqvist stood tall. After combining for only 28 shots in their previous meeting on Feb. 27, the teams mustered 41—23 for the Devils—through 40 minutes Tuesday.
"Anytime you play the top team in your conference, it's always a big challenge," Brodeur said. "Emotionally, guys got up. Finally, we were able to solve Lundqvist. We did the right things. The guys that needed to fight, fought. The guys that needed to grind, grinded. Everybody chipped in. That's why it's a big one. We're in a position where we've got to win games."
The Devils needed less than a minute to score, something they couldn't do eight days earlier in a 2-0 loss at Madison Square Garden. After a Rangers turnover at centre ice, Kovalchuk took a backhanded pass from Zach Parise, split the defence when Ryan McDonagh fell, and snapped in his 26th goal of the season at 49 seconds.
It was Kovalchuk's first goal in 10 games, dating to his hat trick on Feb. 14 at Buffalo.
"Kovalchuk has been good all year but you could see how pumped up he was to play against the Rangers," Brodeur said. "He's just starting this rivalry. He's going to be here for a long time. He has to learn how to hate them. It's pretty easy to do."
New Jersey kept up the pressure throughout the first period and recorded 11 shots—two fewer than its total in the previous matchup with the Rangers. Adam Henrique was stopped on a short-handed breakaway with 5:30 left in the first, and Lundqvist denied two point-blank drives by Kovalchuk in the final 10 seconds.
Kovalchuk had five of New Jersey's shots in the first.
"There were times our intensity was there, but there were way too many mistakes," Lundqvist said.
The Rangers got captain Ryan Callahan back in the lineup after he missed three games because of a bruised foot sustained in the previous meeting with the Devils, but New York lost Dubinsky 3:03 in.
NOTES: Rangers C John Mitchell was scratched for the first time since being recalled from Connecticut of the AHL on Nov. 24. D Steve Eminger returned after being scratched for six games. D Anton Stralman sat out. ... Devils LW Alexei Ponikarovsky (knee) skated with the team Tuesday morning, but sat out a third straight game.