Madison Square Garden was a madhouse.
Then, with one quick flick of Ryan Carter’s wrists, the old house on 33rd Street became the World’s Most Famous Mausoleum.
Carter’s goal with 4:24 remaining in regulation was the game-winner in the Devils’ 5-3 win over the Rangers Wednesday night at the Garden. The Devils lead the best-of-7 series, 3-2.
Friday night’s Game 6 will mark the second time this playoff season that this remarkable Rangers season faces extinction. The Rangers beat Ottawa, 3-2, on April 23 to force a Game 7 three nights later at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won Game 7 of that series, 2-1.
“We’ve just got to win a game. We’ve been in this situation in the Ottawa series,” said Ryan Callahan, who was indefatigable in the loss. “We’ve just got to win one road game. We’ve been good on the road all year. We’ll go in there and try to win a game and bring it back here.”
The Rangers were the best team on the ice for the first time in the series, yet were hindered by another slow start. This time, the issue was not effort but execution. They were unable to solve Martin Brodeur (25 saves) until Brandon Prust swatted a diving backhander past the legend at 15:41 of the first.
But by that point they had spotted the Devils a 3-0 lead in the first 9:49. Stephen Gionta (2:43), Patrik Elias (4:13) and Travis Zajac (9:49) had beaten Henrik Lundqvist (12 saves) in building the advantage.
“We had a couple breakdowns,” Brandon Dubinsky said. Dubinsky was strong on the puck in his first game action since getting injured in Game 7 against Ottawa. “I thought we had our energy, but we had a couple of breakdowns and found ourselves in a hole.”
The Rangers responded to Prust’s goal by pressuring the Devils all over the ice. The Rangers were able to routinely get the puck deep and forecheck for the first time in the series.
“They pushed hard,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said.
Teams that make things happen catch breaks, such as Artem Anisimov’s off-angle shot deflecting off of Callahan’s leg past Brodeur 32 seconds into the second period to cut the deficit to 3-2. Marian Gaborik tied the game at 3-3 17 seconds into the third when he poked the puck under Brodeur after the Devils’ goaltender misplayed it behind his net.
The Rangers had momentum following Gaborik’s first goal of the series. Yet the aggression they had played with to tie the game evaporated.
“I felt when we tied it [that] we stopped making plays,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
It cost them when Carter tipped in the game-winner with 4:24 remaining. Parise added an empty netter at 19:28 to put the Devils one win away from ending their Hudson River rival’s season.
“I think giving up a three-goal lead and coming back and winning the game shows a lot,” Brodeur said. “I thought we stayed composed even though we had a few bad breaks. We didn’t play our best game, but we got a win.
“We’ve just got to keep going; nothing is done yet,” Brodeur added.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.