NEW YORK (AP) Michal Rozsival and Ryan Callahan scored second-period goals and the New York Rangers earned their third straight, beating Ilya Kovalchuk and the slumping New Jersey Devils 3-1 on Sunday night.
Kovalchuk, in the first season of a 15-year, $100 million deal, returned to New Jersey’s lineup a night after he was benched by coach John MacLean for undisclosed reasons. Kovalchuk didn’t play in the Devils’ 6-1 home loss to Buffalo and wasn’t much of a factor Sunday until he scored with 5:52 remaining to make it 2-1.
Kovalchuk, who along with MacLean said the issue between them was resolved, was in the penalty box when Callahan scored the power-play goal that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead.
Rozsival and Callahan both had an assist, and Brandon Dubinsky scored an empty-net goal with a second left for the Rangers, who returned home after wins at Toronto and Boston. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves, but fell a few minutes short of his 25th NHL shutout.
Martin Brodeur stopped 31 shots for New Jersey (2-6-1), which has been outscored 30-15 this season. The Devils’ comeback chances were thwarted when Jacob Josefson went off for hooking with 4:10 left, but New Jersey mounted a furious push for the tying goal in the closing minutes that Lundqvist turned aside.
After failing to score in the first period when they held a 17-10 shots advantage, the Rangers connected twice on 12 attempts in the second.
New York killed off the final 1:10 of Sean Avery’s high-sticking penalty that bridged the first two periods and grabbed the lead just 16 seconds after getting back to full strength.
Brodeur stopped Ruslan Fedotenko’s shot, and the puck was worked around to Rozsival at the right point. Rozsival unleashed a drive that struck Devils defenseman Andy Greene, who was guarding Fedotenko at the outside edge of the right circle, and deflected past Brodeur at 1:26.
The Devils couldn’t capitalize on three consecutive power plays and were victimized on New York’s fourth chance with a man advantage. While Kovalchuk served an interference penalty he received after running over defenseman Dan Girardi in the neutral zone, Callahan netted his first of the season on another deflection.
Dubinsky wound up in the left circle and fired a shot that Callahan tipped in from near the left post at 12:22. New York recorded a power-play goal for the second straight night after not having any in four of its first five games.
Meanwhile, the Devils’ season struggles continued.
MacLean hasn’t been able to get his club in gear during the first nine games of his NHL head coaching career. MacLean is the Devils’ career leading scorer, but New Jersey has yet to find its offensive groove. The Devils have scored more than two goals in a game only twice this season, and never more than three.
Kovalchuk is being counted on to carry the scoring load, and might be feeling the pressure. Even before his one-game benching, the high-flying forward notched only two goals and five points in seven games. New Jersey is surprisingly at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, one season after posting 103 points and winning the Atlantic Division.
It’s still early, but the Devils are already in a tough position and face five straight road games against tough Western Conference opponents – including four on the West Coast.
NOTES: Rozsival, a defenseman, has a point in five of New York’s seven games. … Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner was whistled for three of New Jersey’s first five penalties. … The Rangers were 1 for 7 on the power play. New Jersey went 0 for 4.
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