New York, NY – The bad news for the New Jersey Devils is they squandered a three-goal lead.
The good news is that Ryan Carter scored a tie-breaking goal with 4:24 remaining in the third period, and the Devils posted a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Zach Parise added an empty-netter in the final minute for New Jersey, which is one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since winning it all in 2003.
The sixth-seeded Devils will look to secure a berth in the championship round Friday in Newark.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Mark Fayne both had two assists, while Martin Brodeur earned the win with 25 saves.
Stephen Gionta, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac each put a puck behind New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist before the game was ten minutes old.
Lundqvist stopped only 12 shots, his lowest total in the 2012 postseason.
"We had a tough start," said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. "Tough luck for them a little bit on a couple of them. But I thought we probably played our best game of the series tonight."
The top-seeded Rangers are trailing in a series for the only the second time in these playoffs. They rallied from a 3-2 deficit to eliminate the Ottawa Senators in the opening round.
New York pulled even 17 seconds into the third. Brodeur came out to play a puck, but it crept below the end line outside the trapezoid. Marian Gaborik jumped on the loose disc and pushed it toward Brodeur, who was backpedaling to his crease. He wound up knocking the puck in as he tried to freeze it against the right post.
Kovalchuk's forecheck on a dump-in helped set up Carter's go-ahead tally. Gionta followed up the play and fed Carter out front from the right corner for a one-timer.
"I thought we found a way to weather the storm and we hung with it, and we felt that if we could get back on the forecheck we could create some more offense," said New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer. "And the goal was a forecheck goal. Kovalchuk goes in, eliminates the defenseman. Gionta scoops up the puck and makes a play."
The Devils continued their first-period dominance this postseason, racing out to a 3-0 lead before a returning Brandon Prust lit the lamp for New York.
Gionta and Elias scored 1:30 apart.
The diminutive Gionta came off the boards and went to the net, where he capitalized on a second-chance opportunity by backhanding the rebound of Fayne's right-point shot at 2:43.
New Jersey doubled its advantage when Adam Henrique's bid bounced off Elias, who was stationed outside the crease, and the skate of New York forward Artem Anisimov before trickling past Lundqvist at 4:13.
Zajac then beat Lundqvist inside the left post with a snap shot from above the right circle at 9:49.
A spectator in Monday's 4-1 loss following his one-game suspension for eblowing New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the back of the helmet in Game 3, Prust put the Rangers on the board by sliding a backhander past a sprawled Brodeur with 4:19 left in the first.
New York made it a one-goal affair 32 seconds into the middle stanza. Anisimov flung the puck from a sharp angle and it deflected off Callahan's leg as he cut through the blue paint.
Moments later, New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus took down Gaborik after a defensive-zone draw and Callahan nearly tied the game on the subsequent power play, firing a shot off the right post.
The Devils have outscored opponents 21-9 in first periods this postseason...With his assist on Elias' goal, Henrique tied Scott Gomez (4G, 6A in 2000) for the most points by a rookie in a single playoff year in Devils history. Henrique has two goals and eight assists in 17 games...Prust registered his first goal in 23 career playoff games...New York forward Brandon Dubinsky (lower-body injury) played for the first time since Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals...Lundqvist's career low for saves in a postseason game is 10, in a 4-0 loss to Washington on April 24, 2009 in Game 5 of an Eastern quarterfinal.