The two-word mantra “still alive” was being espoused from all corners of the Rangers’ room Sunday afternoon.
“We are trying to climb in the standings,” captain Ryan Callahan said after the Rangers 4-1 win over the Devils Sunday afternoon at the Garden.
The Rangers are 24-17-5 this season, and have won three in a row. The Rangers have 52 points with three games remaining — all against teams who are out of the playoffs.
“We aren’t looking behind us,” Callahan said. “It’s another two points. Now we have to get more.”
Facing a hated rival who was playing the second game of a weekend back-to-back, and was the team that eliminated them from the Stanley Cup playoffs last May, the Rangers were focused on starting quickly.
They did just that.
Callahan pinballed Carl Hagelin’s behind-the-goal-line feed off of Martin Brodeur’s skate just 34 seconds into the match.
The Rangers are 16-2-1 this season when scoring first.
“We have been getting some bounces,” Callahan said. He later flipped in a power-play knuckler 5:13 into the third period that pushed the advantage to 4-0. “[We are] getting some chances. [Derek Stepan], Hags and I have been playing well together. It’s just a matter of converting when you have opportunities.”
Energized by the quick goal, the Rangers surged and led 2-0 at intermission. Stepan scored the other goal in the period with a redirection of a Ryan McDonagh pass. The Rangers had more shot attempts, 16-10, in the period.
Taylor Pyatt’s first goal since Feb. 26 increased the lead to 3-0 at 11:56 of the second period.
“We were just trying to be simple and use our forechecking strength,” McDonagh said. “Get in their zone and grind it out.”
The Rangers accomplished their goal, and in doing so drove the Devils to distraction.
For a team that needed to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the Devils spent much of the afternoon expressing frustration toward referees Chris Rooney and Francois St. Laurent.
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer was assessed a game misconduct with 15 seconds remaining and was ejected. A bench minor against the Devils for abuse of officials was assessed in the first, and Patrik Elias was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the third.
“There was frustration,” DeBoer said. “It’s obviously not the way you want to go out. But that’s how it ends for us. We will have to regroup and move forward.”
The Devils will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and for only the fourth time in the last quarter century.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” DeBoer said. “I think you don’t want to think about it until it’s actually a reality. [There is] no other word than disappointment.”
To a man, the Rangers expressed no satisfaction in eliminating the Devils from the playoffs. Three hundred and thirty-one days earlier, at the Prudential Center, Adam Henrique’s tap-in 63 seconds into overtime sent the Devils to the Stanley Cup final while the Rangers began a summer overhaul that saw the organization eventually acquire Rick Nash.
“We weren’t worried about them or that,” Callahan said when asked about eliminating the Devils. “It’s all about us and it has been all year.”
“We weren’t thinking about last year,” McDonagh said. “This is a totally different [season] and we’re trying to fight for our lives.”
The Rangers went 1-for-6 in 9:15 worth of power-play time. The Devils did not convert on either of their two power plays.
Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves. Andrei Loktionov scored his eighth goal of the season with 6:30 remaining to keep the Devils from being shutout. Brodeur allowed all four goals on 22 shots.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.