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Surging Devils beat Rangers, win seventh straight

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- There was a playoff feel to the
latest game between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta scored 39 seconds apart in the
third period to lift the surging Devils to a dramatic 3-2 victory
over the Rangers on Sunday night in a game rife with playoff
implications.

The tense contest featured the kind of hard hits and momentum
shifts that mark playoff hockey.

"That was a playoff atmosphere," Devils coach Lou Lamoriello
said.

Rangers coach Tom Renney agreed.

"It was real intense," he said. "It was a hard working, hard
hitting game. It was a fun game."

The teams concluded the season series with four wins each and
could meet again in the opening round. That's the matchup at the
moment with the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers third in the
Eastern Conference and the streaking Devils sixth.

The showdown might have to wait, if the Devils continue to climb
in the standings.

Sergei Brylin also scored for the Devils and Martin Brodeur made
24 saves to help New Jersey extend its winning streak to seven. The
victory gave the Devils 93 points, pulling them within two of the
fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers.

"We're staying patient," Gionta said. "We're staying on an
even keel and waiting for our chances."

Time was running out when Gomez got his chance.

With New Jersey down 2-1 in the third, Gomez tied the game at
11:33 as he split the Rangers defense pair of Sandis Ozolinsh and
Jason Strudwick to whip a backhander past Kevin Weekes. The goal
was the fourth in the last three games for Gomez.

"I got a little lucky," Gomez said. "I just found a hole and
I took it."

Gionta scored the winner on the power play as he knocked in
Jamie Langenbrunner's centering feed from behind the net. The goal
extended Gionta's scoring streak to 11 games (8 goals, 7 assists).

"It was a short-side play." Gionta said. "Langenbrunner found
me in front."

The Rangers, who had won three in a row, got goals from Blair
Betts and Ozolinsh while Weekes made 23 saves.

"Even if we had gotten to overtime and gotten a point out of
it, it would have been more palatable," Weekes said. "This is a
bitter pill to swallow. We had two points and came out with nothing
to show for it."

The Rangers took a 2-1 lead on second-period goals by Betts and
Ozolinsh.

The turning point in that period came at 3:32 when the Rangers
Ryan Hollweg got a 5-minute charging penalty. The Rangers weathered
the major without giving up a goal as Weekes made big stops on
Gionta, Gomez and John Madden.

Momentum swung in New York's favor after the penalty kill.

Betts pulled the Rangers even at 13:54. Jason Ward gloved down a
clearing attempt by Devils defenseman Colin White and fed the puck
to Betts for the tying goal.

Ozolinsh gave the Rangers the lead with a power-play score at
15:46 as he cheated in from the point. Jaromir Jagr hit the cutting
defenseman with a pass that glanced off his stick shaft and
knuckled past Brodeur.

In the third, Martin Straka hit the post with 12 minutes
remaining with a shot that would have given the Rangers a two goal
lead. That miss ultimately proved costly.

Brylin bounced back from a hard hit in the opening minutes to
score the only goal of the first period. Brylin was checked
face-first into the side boards by Hollweg. Brylin was bleeding
heavily as he left the ice and needed stitches over his left eye.

He returned in time to score a power-play goal at 13:46, seconds
after Brodeur stopped Fedor Tyutin on a breakaway.

The goal unfolded with Zach Parise making a cross-ice pass to
Paul Martin who unloaded a slapshot toward the Rangers net. Brylin
deflected the puck past Weekes who was screened by the Devils' Erik
Rasmussen.

Game notes
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist missed a fourth straight
game with a hip injury. ...The Rangers recalled defenseman Thomas
Pock from Hartford (AHL). ... Jagr lost his edge late in the second
period and rolled into linesman Thor Nelson who had to be helped
off the ice. The game continued with only three officials. ...The
sellout was the Devils fourth this season and second with the
Rangers as the opponent.