NEWARK, N.J. -- A little hope was all the New York Rangers needed in keeping their precarious playoff aspirations alive on Thursday before 17,625 at Prudential Center.
Erik Christensen scored the only goal in a shootout and goalie Henrik Lundqvist made it stand by capping a marvelous performance with stops on New Jersey's Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac to give the Rangers a gritty 4-3 victory over their Atlantic Division rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers were forced to rally back on three separate occasions before forcing overtime with just 16.5 seconds remaining in the third period and Lundqvist pulled for the extra attacker. It was Christensen who made that play, too, with a splendid no-look backhand pass between the legs of Colin White from behind the Devils net to captain Chris Drury in the slot. Drury made no mistake, jamming home his first goal in 10 games while stationed on the doorstep of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
"In that sort of situation, you can't make everything perfect," Christensen said. "I don't know who's there. I have to admit, it was a hope pass -- I was hoping someone would be there. I was just protecting the puck behind the net and I don't have eyes in the back of my head, so I'm just throwing it in front of the crease area, hoping someone would be there."
The win moved the 10th-place Rangers within three points of eighth-place Boston in the race for the last playoff berth in the East. New York trails ninth-place Atlanta by one point.
"There's no sense of feeling pressure now," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "If we lose games with so little left, you're done. We've talked as a group. Lots of people poked holes in us and rightfully so. We've had an up-and-down season but we've stayed within ourselves and have kept fighting."
The shootout attempt by Christensen was the second of his career against Brodeur and his first since he was stopped by the future Hall of Fame goalie as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Marty likes to stand on that one side of the net and dares you to shoot at his glove," he said. "In Pittsburgh, I came in from the right and all I had was that open side and he just picks it out of air. So I tried coming in from the other side (on Thursday) and get him moving a little more."
Christensen's attempt to begin the shootout rang off the inside of the left post and into the right corner. The shot was originally called no goal, but the ruling was changed after a video review.
"I was 90-percent sure it went in," Christensen said. "After I let the shot go, I swore it hit the post and then hit the twine and came out quickly."
While Christensen was making the big plays on offense, Lundqvist was certainly doing his part in goal. He finished with 35 saves through 65 minutes, including six in overtime. His denial of Ilya Kovalchuk in the slot with less than two minutes remaining in the extra period was a thing of beauty.
"I felt good out there," Lundqvist said. "It was a fun game. Whenever we play Jersey, there's a lot of energy in the building and on the ice.
"It's a good one to win but if we lost, you would hate it," he continued. "We haven't had a good record at all in OT (3-9), so it was nice to get the game to a shootout. It was great to score right away (in the shootout) because it gives me that confidence to be more patient with the shooters. I tried to approach each shooter the same way, no matter who I was facing. I've faced them a lot over the years and respect them a lot, but I guess today was my day."
The teams were tied 2-2 before Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner connected for his first goal in eight games with 7:23 remaining in the third to give the Devils their third lead of the night.
Langenbrunner took advantage of a bad line change by New York. With half of the Rangers heading to the bench, the Devils made a quick transition when Patrik Elias fed Langenbrunner racing down right wing. Langenbrunner took the pass and ripped a shot from inside the right circle that beat Lundqvist to the long side.
"I thought we fought hard all night long and Hank gave us a chance with some outstanding saves," Tortorella said. "Once (Drury scores that goal) you get one point so we're pretty happy about that. But in the situation we're in, you start thinking about getting that second point."
The Rangers had pulled into a 2-2 tie at 9:40 of the third thanks to a solid shift by their fourth line, which was extremely effective throughout. Artem Anisimov scored his 12th of the season when he roofed a shot over Brodeur off a feed from Brandon Prust.
"The (fourth line) deserved to be on the ice," Tortorella said. "They kept their game simple and scored that huge goal for us -- it was a momentum swing. They've been doing that for a while. (Anisimov) seems so much more comfortable and they gave us big minutes and were part of our three-line rotation in the third."
Brodeur, who finished with 28 saves, came up huge in the opening two minutes of the third when he did the splits to deny Olli Jokinen's blast from between the circles off a broken play in the Devils end. Less than two minutes later, Elias teed up a pass from David Clarkson and beat Lundqvist from the high slot at 3:53, giving the home team its second lead of the game.
Kovalchuk opened the scoring 5:21 into the first period when he buried a rebound while barreling down the slot. Brian Rolston's blast from the top of the left circle redirected off a defender and was stopped by Lundqvist. But he couldn't control the rebound, and Kovalchuk shook off Rangers defenseman Wade Redden to knock home his 38th of the season.
The Rangers got even 7:32 into the second on the power play when Brandon Dubinsky took a wrist shot from the left circle that deflected off Devils defenseman Paul Martin and went past Brodeur. Sean Avery, who assisted on the play, began yapping at Brodeur following the goal before Martin offered a little shove from behind.
The Devils had some good opportunities to regain the lead, but Lundqvist stood his ground. Elias broke in shorthanded at 9:42 but Lundqvist stuck out his left pad to deny his breakaway bid. Parise put the puck in the net at 10:16, but referee Wes McCauley waved it off immediately, ruling that Parise had knocked the puck behind Lundqvist with his right elbow.
Lundqvist then turned away Zajac while spread-eagled on the ice at 11:22 on a wrist shot from the slot. Kovalchuk missed a chance on the power play when his rocket from the point deflected off Lundqvist and off the left post.
With less than two minutes remaining, it was Brodeur's turn as he denied Avery on the doorstep with his right pad.
"I can't point to any breakdown," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "They pulled the goalie and sent the puck behind the net. They had three guys in front and our center was up too high. We shouldn't have even been there in the end because we had so many more chances. We felt good about the game but their goalie was great and that was difference. If we play like this, I'm happy."