Coaches John Tortorella and Peter DeBoer were sure that their charges would be brimming with energy Tuesday night after five days off.
So it was predictable that Ilya Kovalchuk’s skills competition goal was the game-winner in the Devils’ 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers.
“Our best players were our best players tonight,” DeBoer said. “When Kovy goes down and scores every time [in the shootout], it’s a boost.”
Martin Brodeur stopped 23-of-26 shots for the Devils, who received regulation goals from Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson.
Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto scored for the Rangers. Marty Biron made 26 saves.
“Liked our game,” Tortorella said. “We’ll take the point and go to Buffalo.”
The Rangers have split the first two games of the year against the Devils. The teams have four games remaining, three of which occur at the Garden.
Stralman opened the scoring at 19:27 of the first period. The defenseman joined Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin on a rush and when a rebound of Gaborik’s off-wing shot ricocheted off of Brodeur’s pads onto his stick blade, Stralman had his second goal in 25 games with the Rangers.
Stralman’s goal followed a strong forechecking shift by the trio of Mike Rupp, Artem Anisimov and John Mitchell in which the line was able to keep the puck in the New Jersey zone and generate offense. A spectacular sequence of saves by Brodeur was the only reason that the Rangers did not break through.
But the Rangers couldn’t grow their lead. A power play that Tortorella termed “robotic,” during the early skate was unsuccessful and man advantage units are 0-for-7 dating back to a 3-0 win over Winnipeg on Jan. 24.
Parise tied the game at 1-1 8:20 into the second period by lifting a rebound of his own shot over Biron’s glove.
Tortorella made the decision to start Biron when the team returned from the All-Star Break Monday. Tortorella’s rationale was that he wanted Henrik Lundqvist to have two days of practice before playing in a meaningful game. Last night’s game was the first Lundqvist did not start against the Devils since the 2005-06 season. He believes that he will play tonight in Buffalo.
Boyle broke the tie 2:37 into the third when he lifted a shot over a sprawled Brodeur from just inside the left faceoff circle.
Up to that point, it was a tight-checking, defensive affair. However it became wild in the final five minutes of regulation.
The Rangers’ lead lasted until the 4:35 mark when Kovalchuk lasered a power play bullet over Biron’s glove to tie the game at 2-2. Del Zotto gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead 36 seconds after Kovalchuk’s tying goal only to see Clarkson tie the game at 19:20.
“It was a fluky play where it hits [the] partition,” Clarkson said. “It felt pretty good. Wasn’t pretty, but I’ll take it.”
“Lucky bounce, [but] it doesn’t make it easier with 30 seconds left,” said Biron in an empty Rangers locker room.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.