(AP) — Erik Haula and Timo Meier scored and Vitek Vanecek made three big third-period saves to lead the New Jersey Devils to a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday night in a feisty matchup between teams that could meet in the first round of the playoffs.
Vanecek finished with 22 saves as the Devils won the season series 3-1 and opened a four-point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division with two weeks left in the season. He stopped Vincent Trocheck in close twice and Vladimir Tarasenko in the final 12 minutes in picking up his 30th win.
Vanecek got help from defenseman Ryan Graves, who cleared a loose puck in the crease with Tarasenko lurking in the final minute.
Chris Kreider scored his 33rd goal for the Rangers, who lost for the third time in 11 games (8-2-1). Igor Shesterkin maintained his outstanding play, making 29 saves before a sellout crowd at the Prudential Center that rooted for both teams.
There was a lot of anticipation about this game with the teams so close in the standings. While the fans were loud, the game didn’t pick up a playoff feeling until the latter part of the second period.
There was a scrum to the side of the Rangers’ net after Haula gave Adam Fox a forecheck in the back after a whistle, and there was another behind the Devils’ net after the period ended.
The Devils took a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Haula scored his second in as many games, redirecting a blue-line pass by Dougie Hamilton past Shesterkin at 5:17. Meier got his 36th of the season from the slot on a power play at 17:03 on a pass by Jack Hughes.
Kreider cut the advantage in half at 13:24 on a power-play shot in close off a pass from Mike Zibanejad after New Jersey failed to clear the offensive zone. It was his 262nd goal for the Rangers, tying him with Vic Hatfield for fifth in team history.