NEW YORK — Rookie Chris Kreider and defenseman Dan Girardi both had a goal and an assist in the third period, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 shots for his fifth career playoff shutout Monday night as the weary Rangers opened the Eastern Conference final with a 3-0 win over the well-rested Devils.
"He bails us out; it's huge," teammate Brian Boyle said of Lundqvist. "We know what we have in him and he's been huge for us all year long."
Just two days after eliminating Washington in a stirring 2-1 Game 7 victory, top seed New York hit home ice again and won its third straight Game 1 of these playoffs. The Devils had been off for five days since knocking out the Flyers in five games.
No team forced to play seven games in each of the first two rounds has gone on to win the Stanley Cup. But, shaking off suggestions they are tired, the Rangers slogged through two scoreless periods and won with a dominating third period.
"I think it starts with work habits, how hard we want to work," Lundqvist said. "And then the skill takes over. We have been doing it all year."
The Rangers are in the conference final for the first time since 1997, and haven't reached the Stanley Cup final since 1994 when they beat 22-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur and the Devils in a classic seven-game series that backed up captain Mark Messier's guarantee.
Girardi got a perfect setup from Kreider and scored 53 seconds into the third, through a screen in front by Derek Stepan. It was Girardi's second playoff goal this season and second in 47 postseason games.
He also earned a secondary assist on Kreider's power-play goal with 8 minutes remaining. Artem Anisimov, who also assisted on Kreider's goal, scored into an empty net to make it 3-0.
"I thought whoever scored first tonight was going to win," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said.
First Period—None. Penalties—Volchenkov, NJ (delay of game), 8:09; Hagelin, NYR (holding), 11:27.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Zubrus, NJ (hooking), 2:54; Greene, NJ (slashing), 14:05; Prust, NYR (roughing), 17:15.
Third Period—1, N.Y. Rangers, Girardi 2 (Kreider, Del Zotto), :53. 2, N.Y. Rangers, Kreider 3 (Anisimov, Girardi), 12:00 (pp). 3, N.Y. Rangers, Anisimov 3 (Boyle, Fedotenko), 18:33 (en). Penalties—Bernier, NJ (boarding), 10:24; Kreider, NYR (hooking), 13:07; Rupp, NYR (roughing), 19:22. Shots on Goal—New Jersey 6-11-4—21. N.Y. Rangers 8-10-10—28. Power-play opportunities—New Jersey 0 of 4; N.Y. Rangers 1 of 4. Goalies—New Jersey, Brodeur 8-4-0 (27 shots-25 saves). N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 9-6-0 (21-21). A—18,200 (18,200). T—2:26.
Around the league: Hunter leaves Caps
ARLINGTON, Va. — For some time, Capitals general manager George McPhee tried to persuade former player Dale Hunter to return to the team as coach. This season, McPhee got his man — just not for very long.
Hunter quit after less than six months, saying he wants to return to his family, his farm and the junior club he owns in Canada. "It was the right thing to do," he said.
Hunter owns the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, and was the coach until McPhee beckoned in late November after firing Bruce Boudreau. Hunter's brother Mark took over as London's coach, and one of Hunter's three children is an assistant. Hunter's 76-year-old father scouts for London.
Also, CSNWashington.com reported that goalie Tomas Vokoum wants to leave after one season. And ESPN reported that forward Alexander Semin plans to leave as an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
BLUE JACKETS KEEP COACH: Todd Richards is losing the interim tag as Blue Jackets coach. Richards took over in January when Scott Arniel was fired. Richards, 45, agreed to a two-year contract with Columbus, which improved under him but still finished with the league's worst record at 29-46-7.
KINGS: Simon Gagne, a former Lightning wing, was cleared for contact and is skating five months after a concussion, but ESPN.com reported that it's unclear when he'll return.