NEW YORK - In each of the previous two playoff series, the Rangers had lost Game 2 by a score of 3-2. Both Ottawa and Washington battled back to even those series, which extended to seven games, at one game apiece.
The Rangers couldn't break the Game 2 hex at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, as David Clarkson, perched in front of the crease, tipped Adam Henrique's shot past Henrik Lundqvist at 2:31 of the third period for the go-ahead goal and the Devils held on to win, 3-2, and square the Eastern Conference finals.
Game 3 is Saturday afternoon in Newark.
"They were really good along the boards ... they set the tempo of the game. They wanted it a little more," Lundqvist said. "In the next game, we have to correct a few things, the battles and stick positioning. Of course, they were coming in really desperate and we have to match it. We definitely had a chance to win this game even though we didn't play our best."
The Rangers hoped to secure their first two-game lead in a series, but the Devils, who had lost Game 1 against Philadelphia in the previous round before winning four straight, solved Lundqvist, who made 21 saves in a 3-0 shutout Monday.
After Clarkson's goal in the third, the Rangers, who scored two power-play goals, had another opportunity with the man advantage when Steve Bernier interfered with Marc Staal at 3:49. But the Rangers failed to capitalize. Marian Gaborik, who scored 41 goals during the season, didn't get a shift during that power play and was benched for the first half of the third period.
Artem Anisimov was called for hooking Patrik Elias with 7:58 left in regulation, but the Devils had just one shot in those two minutes. With 2:40 left, Alexei Ponikarovsky slammed into Lundqvist cutting in on a rush, but no call was made. Lundqvist was pulled with about 1:10 to play, and the Devils iced the puck with 34.3 seconds left and coach John Tortorella called a timeout.
The second period, which included a seven-minute delay while the jammed door to the visitors' penalty box was repaired, ended with the score tied at 2.
At 2:23, Staal was credited with a power-play goal that tied it at 1 when his long shot caromed off the end boards back to the right post. As Derek Stepan swung and missed, the puck hit Martin Brodeur, who made 24 saves, and slid behind him.
After the penalty box door delay at 10:32 while Travis Zajac waited to enter, Anton Stralman's shot hit the shaft of Chris Kreider's stick in front, bounced off Brodeur and gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 12:19. It was Kreider's fourth goal of the playoffs. It also was the second power-play goal for the Rangers.
With 1:51 left, the Devils' fourth line knotted the game. Ryan Carter tipped Bryce Salvador's shot past Lundqvist after some sloppy play by the Rangers in their own zone. The period ended with the shots tied at 17.
Staal said: "In the corners and on the wall, they were cycling us pretty good. I think the first period, they were winning more battles than us and were able to get more pressure. We came back in the second but weren't able to finish the job in the third. They got some tips on us."
The Devils had the best chances in the first period, outshot the Rangers 8-5, and left for intermission with a 1-0 lead on Ilya Kovalchuk's laser from the lower left circle on the power play at 13:39.
The best opportunities for the Rangers came when Ryan McDonagh's wraparound attempt hit the right post as Brodeur dove back to his left at 8:50, and on their lone power play when Elias was off for roughing at 10:13. Brodeur stacked his pads to deflect Gaborik's backhanded rebound from about 12 feet away at 10:48.
Lundqvist had said before the game: "A lot of times, that's where games get decided, in the third period." He was right. Another game was decided in the third Wednesday night. But the Devils had the better period.