NEW YORK — The New York Rangers are not only closer to securing home-ice advantage for the playoffs, they are getting there with Henrik Lundqvist almost back in top form just a week after returning from a serious neck injury that sidelined him nearly two months.
Lundqvist made 35 saves in a dazzling effort, Rick Nash scored his career-best 42nd goals and the Rangers won for the 50th time this season with a 6-1 victory April 4 over the longtime rival New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
“I feel like I am close to where I want to be and need to be moving forward,” Lundqvist said after falling a save short of matching his season-high. “So it’s a lot of fun to feel that progress.”
Lundqvist missed 25 games with the injury and didn’t play well in his March 28 return against Boston. But he has started the Rangers’ last three games — all wins— and stopped 93 of 98 shots.
“He looks like himself,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. “He’s talking like himself out there. He’s carrying himself like he’s back to normal. It’s a good sign for us for sure.”
Keith Yandle and Dominic Moore scored 25 seconds apart to cap a big three-goal first period ignited by Nash, Derek Stepan added a short-handed goal in the second and Derick Brassard and Moore tallied in the third.
The win tied the Rangers with Anaheim for the most points in the league with107. They are three ahead of Montreal and Tampa Bay in the race for the best mark in the Eastern Conference. New York has played one fewer game than the Canadiens and two fewer than the Ducks and Lightning. There are four games left in the regular season.
“There are winning ways in this locker room and guys really take pride in what we do here,” Yandle said. “It’s fun to come to the rink.”
New Jersey, which helped the Rangers out April 3 by beating Montreal in a shootout, didn’t score until Tuomo Ruutu’s goal 3:30 to play.
“You take a lot of pride in how you play, as a group,” Devils defenseman Andy Greene said. “You didn’t do it and we have to make sure we remember this and come out Tuesday (when the teams play again) and play hard and make sure it does not happen again.”
Nash gave the Rangers the lead about five minutes after the opening faceoff, deflecting a Mats Zuccarello pass past Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who was replaced by Keith Kinkaid after giving up three goals on six shots.
Nash’s 42 goals tie him with Phil Esposito (78-79) and Marian Gaborik (2009-10) for the 11th highest total by a Ranger in a season.
Yandle stretched the lead to 2-0 at 11:59 with a shot from the right point on which he faked a pass and seemed to catch Schneider off guard. Moore got his first goal 25 seconds later after the Rangers caught the Devils on a counterattack and he beat Schneider in close.
“We allowed some things to happen that haven’t been happening and there’s nothing to do about it,” Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello after one of the team’s worst performances in the past month.
Stepan’s 14th goal of the season came on a breakaway set up by Nash with 2.7 seconds left in the second.
Brassard scored early in the third on a shot that hit off a Devil defenseman, and Moore got his second with a deflection of a McDonagh shot.
(TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer)