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HOCKEY

Devils beat Rangers to close in on Stanley Cup Finals berth

The New Jersey Devils let a three-goal lead slip away against the New York Rangers on Wednesday but scored twice late in the third period to claim a 5-3 win and move within touching distance of a place in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals.

Devils center Ryan Carter lit the lamp from a feed by Stephen Gionta with 4:24 remaining to push New Jersey ahead, and Zach Parise removed any suspense by scoring an empty net goal with just over 30 seconds left.

The victory lifted New Jersey to a 3-2 lead over their cross-river rivals in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals and they will have the chance to seal a place in the Cup finals when the series returns to New Jersey on Friday.

The Devils are aiming to return to the finals for the first time in nine years. The Los Angeles Kings have already booked their place in the Stanley Cup finals after wrapping up the Western Conference title in five games over the Phoenix Coyotes.

Gionta got the Devils going, flipping a rebound past Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist less than three minutes into the game, and Patrik Elias deflected in another goal 90 seconds later before New York had registered a shot on Marty Brodeur.

The Garden crowd were stunned into silence when Travis Zajac's blistering slap shot on a three-on-two break got past Lundqvist low on the stick side for a 3-0 Devils lead with 10:11 remaining in the opening period.

The top-seeded Rangers responded with a goal by Brandon Prust, back after a one-game suspension for elbowing, at 15:41 and 32 seconds into the second period Ryan Callahan cut the Devils' lead to 3-2.

In complete control, the Rangers scored the equalizer through Marian Gaborik 17 seconds into the third, sparking derisive chants of "Marty, Marty" at Devils netminder Brodeur.

The Devils would have the last laugh however as they regained their resolve and turned the tables on the Rangers.

Gionta raced to the corner to win the puck along the boards and centered to Carter, who rushed in just ahead of Carl Hagelin and put the game-winner past goalie Lundqvist.

Parise then wrapped up the scoring in the final minute.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)