NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey Devils have moved to the brink of their first playoff berth since 2012 by forgetting the big picture and concentrating on the little things.
There is nothing more important than the here and now, and the Devils conveyed that message to the rival New York Rangers on Tuesday night in moving within two points of the postseason.
Taylor Hall and rookie Will Butcher scored two goals apiece, and the Devils scored three times in the opening 10:40 to power their way to a 5-2 victory, their third straight and sixth in seven.
“It just shows our readiness to start the game,” goaltender Keith Kinkaid said after making 22 saves. “We talked about getting off to a good start and we were ready at the drop of the puck and excited that we’re in control of our own destiny.”
Coupled with the Flyers’ loss to the New York Islanders, the Devils (95 points) moved into the top wild-card spot ahead of Philadelphia (94) in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey can clinch a playoff spot either with a win or two overtime losses in its final two games, any combination by Florida in its last three games that cost it two points, or if the Flyers lose their final two games.
The Devils are also one point behind Pittsburgh and Columbus in the Metropolitan Division. They also have two games left and play each other Thursday.
“We’re all trying to perform and get better and trying to improve and tighten things up,” Devils veteran center Brian Boyle said. “We’re being challenged to improve. We haven’t played necessarily good in certain areas but we understand the big picture and how we have to tighten that stuff up. We’re a motivated group.”
Travis Zajac ignited a three-goal first period with a tap-in tally 25 seconds after the opening faceoff, and New Jersey’s power play took over after that.
Butcher, who had never scored more than once in a game, got both with the Devils using an extra skater, while Hall scored his first on a power play and got his 39th of the season on a second-period penalty shot that easily beat Henrik Lundqvist.
“Maybe he thought I was going to go five after scoring a few lately there, but I saw it and just tried to get it off my stick as quickly as I could,” Hall said.
Ryan Spooner and Kevin Hayes scored for the Rangers, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Lundqvist made 39 saves.
Forward Chris Kreider said the Rangers didn’t get out of their own zone well, they didn’t generate much offense and took too many penalties.
“It makes for a pretty easy night for the opposition and a pretty hard night for us,” he said.
This rivalry game was over early.
Zajac started the roll by carrying the puck from his own end into the Rangers’ zone and dropping a pass to Blake Coleman. The forward flubbed his shot, but the puck deflected off the Kreider’s stick to Zajac who tucked it into an open net.
Hall got his 38th after the Rangers failed to clear a puck in front of stick-less Lundqvist.
Butcher scored from the right point 70 seconds after Rangers defenseman John Gilmour was penalized for shooting the puck into the crowd.
Spooner deflected Jimmy Vesey’s pass into the top of the net with 2:13 left in the period, and he hit the post before the period ended.
Butcher extended the lead to 4-1 just under seven minutes into the second period with a shot from the left point, and Hall beat Lundqvist over his glove after Brady Skjei prevented his shot on a breakaway. It marked the second time this season Hall has had four points in a game, one less than his career high.
Hayes scored on a giveaway in the third period.
NOTES: The Rangers played without forwards Mats Zuccarello (lower body) and Jesper Fast (groin). The two important penalty killer were hurt in the win in Carolina on Saturday. Coach Alain Vigneault said Fast would probably not play again this season … Zuccarello is day to day for the last two games. … Hall has had 27 multipoint games in what has been a career season. He has 93 points, three off the Devils’ single-season record set by Patrik Elias. … Butcher’s 44 points are the most by a Devils’ rookie defenseman in a season. Slava Fetisov had 42 in 1989-90.
Rangers: At Islanders on Thursday night.
Devils: Play regular-season home finale against Toronto on Thursday night.
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