Hughes scores 2, Devils blow past Rangers 7-4 to stop skid
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jack Hughes scored twice and the New Jersey Devils broke loose for five second-period goals — four in a six-minute span — to erase an early deficit and defeat the New York Rangers 7-4 on Tuesday night.
Nico Daws made 31 saves for the Devils, who snapped an eight-game losing streak to the rival Rangers. Ryan Graves, P.K. Subban, Dawson Mercer, Tomas Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich also scored as New Jersey shelled Igor Shesterkin for five goals on 13 shots in the middle period.
Shesterkin had allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of his past 14 starts. Alexandar Georgiev replaced the usually unflappable Rangers starter to begin the third.
“We just weren’t very mentally sharp,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I don’t blame the goalie, as good as he’s been this season.”
Shesterkin made 19 saves and Georgiev, who blanked first-place Carolina on Sunday night, stopped five shots in the third. He gave up Hughes’ 20th goal — and 100th career point — at 9:36 on the power play before the 20-year-old forward scored again at 10:46.
There were significant cheers from fans of both teams at Prudential Center amid the barrage of goals.
“That was a great win in front of our fans against a huge rival,” said Hughes, the first overall pick by the Devils in the 2019 draft who has 49 points this season. “We have great fans and so do they.”
It was the third seven-goal outburst this season for the Devils, who had lost four of their past five games including all three on a trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
“The strength of our team is our speed. We were playing too slow, then we started moving the puck well,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “The sign of a good team is to bounce back.”
Mika Zibanejad opened the scoring for the Rangers at 7:10 of the first, depositing his 26th goal of the season past Daws. Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere assisted.
Adam Fox made it 2-0 at 13:55 with his 10th goal, assisted by Zibanejad. The Norris Trophy-winning defenseman has points in nine of his last 12 games.
After outshooting the Devils 14-11 in the first, the Rangers were dominating the second before Graves broke through for New Jersey at 7:12. Subban tied it with his fifth goal at 8:30.
Mercer put the Devils ahead 3-2 at 12:40 before Tatar scored his 12th at 13:13. New Jersey even had a goal disallowed for offside following a Rangers replay challenge before Sharangovich extended the cushion to 5-2 with his 16th at 18:07.
Mercer continued his strong rookie campaign with his 16th goal in his first regular-season home game against the Rangers.
“It’s exciting when the Rangers come here. To finally put some past him felt good,” he said of solving Shesterkin, at least for one night. “We just have to keep grinding,´´
Devils leading scorer Jesper Bratt had two assists, as did Graves and captain Nico Hischier.
Bratt became the first Devils skater with 60-plus points and 40 or more assists in a season since Taylor Hall in 2017-18. Bratt leads the team with 62 points.
Daws improved to 7-6-0 this season.
“He kept his composure,” Ruff said of the 21-year-old German-born netminder, one of six goaltenders the Devils have used this season. “He was pretty cool. That was a real important win.”
The Rangers won the previous two meetings this season, both at Madison Square Garden, 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 14 and 3-1 on March 4.
The young Devils are 23-35-5 this season. They have made the postseason only once since 2012, in 2018.
“We have to treat this like our playoffs to evaluate where we can be as an offensive group,” Ruff said. “Tonight we stressed our transition game. Sometimes the puck doesn’t come to you. Tonight it came right to us.”
The Rangers, who fell to 40-19-5, had won five straight in Newark dating to Nov. 30, 2019. In those games, New York outscored New Jersey 24-7.
Three of the players acquired Monday by the Rangers made their debuts for the team — forwards Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte, and defenseman Justin Braun. Copp had two assists.
Ryan Strome scored his 15th goal for New York at 3:46 of the third before Kreider completed the scoring with his 42nd goal on the power play at 14:56.
“We had a good first and then fell asleep at the wheel,” said Kreider, who leads the NHL with 22 power-play goals. “They jumped on our turnovers. The majority of the game is mental. We stopped playing simple.”
LESS TRAVEL AHEAD
The Rangers played their 35th road game of the season, most in the NHL. They will play all but one of their remaining 19 games against Eastern Conference opponents. April 19 against Winnipeg at home is the lone exception.
NOTES: The Rangers fell to 25-4-2 when they score first. … Zibanejad needs one point for 500 in his career. … The cross-river rivals meet once more this season, April 5 in New Jersey. … The Devils scratched defenseman Colton White and forward Pavel Zacha. … The Rangers scratched defensemen Braden Schneider and Libor Hajek plus forwards Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier and Jonny Brodzinski. They also continued to be without injured forwards Kevin Rooney and Kaapo Kakko.
Rangers: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.
Devils: Visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
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