NEW YORK (AP) — After a three-day break, the New York Rangers kept on winning, while the New Jersey Devils remained on the skids even with a brand new coaching staff behind the bench.
Derek Stepan led the way for the surging Rangers, who were powered to their eighth straight win by the young forward’s third NHL hat trick. This is the Rangers’ longest winning streak in 40 years.
Stepan scored a short-handed goal, one on a power play and another into an empty net to give New York a 3-1 win on Saturday night in goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s 600th game.
‘I don’t think we got it all the way back,” Stepan said, “but we found a way to win a hockey game. We were certainly close, so we just have to continue to work, continue to find that jump that got us the seven wins before the break.”
Lundqvist made 19 saves and faced his toughest tests in the third period when the Devils pressed for the tying goal. He held his ground, weathered a few crease pileups, and even stayed cool when he lost his stick at the side of the net.
“You try not to panic,” Lundqvist said.
Stepan netted an unassisted short-handed goal in the first period, and a power-play tally in the second for the Rangers (19-10-4), who have won 12 of 14 and earned at least one point in 22 of 29 (18-7-4).
Stepan’s empty-netter with 54.6 seconds left clinched the victory. Following Rick Nash’s effort Tuesday against Washington, the Rangers have back-to-back hat tricks for the first time since Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, 1994.
“I had some fortunate bounces,” Stepan said. “Hank made some big saves, and the defense really showed.”
Lundqvist, second to Mike Richter (666) in goalie games played with the Rangers, has a franchise record 325 wins. He tied his personal-best winning streak of seven games and became the ninth goalie to play 600 games with one team.
He has won 32 of his 52 career games against the Devils, his most victories against any team, and allowed two goals or fewer in 38 of those appearances.
The Rangers last won eight straight from Dec. 27, 1974-Jan. 11, 1975.
“We can’t have a letdown,” Lundqvist said. “We have to continue here and push ourselves. When you’re hot and you’re on a roll, you want to try to cash in as much as possible.”
Steve Bernier scored a second-period goal, and Cory Schneider stopped 26 shots for New Jersey, Bernier’s first goal in 11 games had general manager Lou Lamoriello clapping on the bench.
The Devils fared no better with their new coaching trio of Lamoriello, Scott Stevens (defense) and Adam Oates (forwards) that replaced Pete DeBoer, who was fired on Friday.
“It was interesting — watching, listening, and seeing what was transpiring,” Lamoriello said. “I thought it was extremely positive. The bench was extremely alive. We were not overly frustrated.
“There were some changes made within a 24-hour period, so we knew there would be a few breakdowns. Overall we have to build off what we saw,”
There will be no official head coach for the rest of the season. Lamoriello will stay on the bench to help with the transition. The Devils (12-18-7) began the night nine points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
It was an NHL-record 14th coaching change made by Lamoriello. The Devils were 3-8-5 in their final 16 games under DeBoer.
New Jersey, which went 0 for 4 with the man advantage, played solid defense early and then fell behind while on its second power play.
Stepan knocked the puck away from Travis Zajac near the blue line and nudged it ahead as Zajac fell. Stepan chased down the puck deep in the Devils end, shifted to his backhand, and pushed the puck back between Schneider’s pads with 1:46 left in the first period.
“You knew they were going to come out with energy and try to forecheck, which they did,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “I thought we managed the first five minutes fairly well.”
Stepan made it 2-0 at 7:38 of the second when he deflected in Martin St. Louis’ drive during a power play.
“Special teams won us the game,” Lundqvist said.
New Jersey got back within one of a pretty play by defenseman Eric Gelinas, who faked a slap shot from above the left circle and deftly sent a pass down to Bernier at the bottom of the right circle for a shot that eluded Lundqvist’s outstretched glove.
Gelinas nearly tied it with just over a minute left in the second, but his drive struck the left post.
NOTES: Stepan has a five-game point streak (4 goals, 4 assists). … Devils C Scott Gomez — formerly of New York — played in his 1,000th NHL game. … The Rangers are 2-0 against New Jersey. … Devils C Patrik Elias and RW Michael Ryder have the mumps. Elias was placed on the injured list, retroactive to Dec. 20 along with LW Martin Havlat, sidelined by a non-mumps illness. … Rangers RW Lee Stempniak returned after a three-game absence, first caused by the mumps. D John Moore was back after being scratched for four games. C J.T. Miller and D Matt Hunwick sat out.