Rangers look to avoid Devils sweep


GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) – New York rookie Henrik Lundqvist winced and doubled over in pain when shots from his teammates during practice struck him in the shoulder and wrist.

If only those drives stung New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur that way, the Rangers might not be facing playoff elimination so quickly.

But New York has hit the Devils’ net behind Brodeur only twice in three playoff contests – all Rangers’ losses in a best-of-seven series that could end Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

The trouble goes back further. The Rangers have lost eight straight and have managed one goal or fewer in the past five games.

Brodeur punctuated that with a 3-0 win in Game 3 that landed the Devils on the brink of the second round. The Devils have completed two playoff sweeps and won the Stanley Cup in each of those seasons.

“We’ve been through a lot this year, so facing what’s ahead I think everybody doesn’t want to mess it up,” Brodeur said.

By the time New York takes the ice Saturday, it will be three weeks since its last victory. The Rangers haven’t won at home since April 6.

“Mission important and possible,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said Friday. “It’s a race to four games and they’ve only got three. As far as I’m concerned, we can certainly do that.”

If the Rangers extend the series, Game 5 would be Sunday back across the Hudson River.

Lundqvist was mentioned throughout the season as a potential rookie of the year, or Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie, or even MVP of the league by posting 30 wins in 53 games.

Yet, he is still looking for his first playoff victory and is running out of time to get it. The Rangers have been outscored 13-2 in the series that has been dominated at both ends of the ice by the Devils, who have won 14 straight.

“We expected not to score a lot of goals against Brodeur. History speaks for itself and how good a goalie he is, especially in the playoffs,” forward Steve Rucchin said. “The biggest problem for us has been our own zone. We’ve given New Jersey way too many easy opportunities to score goals.”

New Jersey has been content to sit back and wait for the Rangers to make mistakes. When New York does, the Devils have been quick to strike with odd-man rushes that have produced a good chunk of their goals.

And the waiting isn’t all that long.

The Devils have taken the lead in the opening minutes of all three games. Only once – in the opener – have the Rangers tied it let alone go ahead. New York hasn’t had an advantage in any game since a loss at Pittsburgh on April 13 – a stretch of 347 minutes, 42 seconds over 17 periods.

“We have to start the game in a good way,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t think we have to score in the first period, we don’t have to score in the second period. We just have to score the first goal. If we do that in the third period, that’s good. We just have to be patient.”

Jaromir Jagr couldn’t afford that, so he pressed his sore left shoulder back into action Wednesday after missing his first game of the season. He couldn’t shoot the puck the way he did in racking up team records of 54 goals and 123 points but he tried.

Jagr practiced with his teammates fully Friday for the first time since he was injured in the series opener and is expected to play again in Game 4.

“If he’s going to dress, then I have high expectations,” Renney said. “He can shoot. He may not be able to do the one-timer thing or the slap shot but that’s never really been a part of his repertoire anyway.”

Rookie Petr Prucha and checking forward Blair Betts are the only Rangers to score in this series. Jagr has one assist, as does fellow top-liner Michael Nylander. The third in that trio, Martin Straka, has none.

Petr Sykora, a former Devils star, has no points yet has struck goal posts three times in the past two losses.

“No doubt we’re playing the hottest team,” said Martin Rucinsky, who returned from a finger injury in Game 3. “It’s hard, but we have to find a way to get it done.”

AP-ES-04-28-06 1623EDT