Jagr returns, but Devils blank Rangers for 3-0 series lead

NEW YORK (AP) -- Martin Brodeur made the heads of the New York Rangers sag as low as Jaromir Jagr's achy shoulder.

The goaltender's job got a lot easier when Patrik Elias wrecked
the long-awaited playoff party at Madison Square Garden just over a minute into the game.

Brodeur stopped 25 shots in his 21st career playoff shutout and Elias had a goal and assist within the first nine minutes to lift the Devils to a 3-0 victory Wednesday night that pushed Jagr and the Rangers to the brink of playoff elimination.

Elias set up Jamie Langenbrunner 68 seconds after the opening faceoff and then scored his third goal of the series eight minutes later. Brodeur did the rest in shutting down an already struggling
Rangers offense.

The return of the injured Jagr didn't help at all, and the Devils won their 14th straight game.

"He is a tremendous hockey player so you've got to know if he is going to play or not," said Brodeur, who is two shutouts behind Patrick Roy for the NHL career record. "Regardless of him being there 100 percent or not there, it doesn't change the approach of our game."

New Jersey took advantage of New York's deficient special teams in winning the opening two games of the series and then built a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven matchup by scoring three goals at even strength.

Not even the unexpected return of Jagr, who is battling a left shoulder injury, could spark the Rangers in their first home playoff game in nine years. Petr Sykora came the closest to scoring but he hit the post -- for the second straight game -- when facing an
open net in the second period.

Jagr sat out Game 2 after he was hurt late in the opening loss at New Jersey and said it would take a miracle for him to be ready to play Wednesday. Mission accomplished, but that was nothing compared to what the Rangers will need to rally in this series.

"It's the playoffs. If I can play, I'm going to play," said Jagr, who had one shot in 17:09 of ice time. "I knew it wasn't going to be any good. I tried my best."

Only two NHL teams have come back to win after trailing 0-3, and the Devils have never lost a series they led as much as 2-0. Much of that success is linked to Brodeur, who can tie Roy in Game 4 with his 136th consecutive playoff start.

"I don't think our approach will change that much because we're up 3-nothing," Brodeur said. "We just don't want to give them life. We are definitely scared of that hockey club."

Rookie forward Zach Parise scored 2:48 into the second period for the Devils, who will have a chance Saturday to eliminate the Rangers for the first time in four playoff meetings between the area rivals.

"We have to keep the next game close," Jagr said. "We have to be able to score and not make any mistakes. We have to try to get one win and then you never know. Anything is possible. We have nothing to lose. We are almost dead."

Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed all the New Jersey goals in the opening 6-1 loss, came back after his Game 2 benching but allowed three goals this time on just nine shots. He finished with 17 saves.

"We just need some luck so we can feel the bounces are going our way. It's been a tough ride so far," Lundqvist said.

After each of the first two defeats, in which they were outscored 10-2, the Rangers spoke of their strong play while skating five-on-five and insisted they could win if they could stay at even strength.

New Jersey needed four shots to poke holes in that theory.

The Devils broke out of their zone and created a two-on-one with Elias and Langenbrunner. Elias, who had two goals and four assists in Game 1, shoveled a backhand cross-ice pass to Langenbrunner for a shot from the left circle that beat Lundqvist to make it 1-0 on New Jersey's first shot.

The pair struck again at 9:20. Elias streaked into the Rangers' end and gave the puck to Langenbrunner, who fired a shot from the left side. The juicy rebound in front came to Elias, who smacked it in on his second try.

"We wanted to play real patient hockey," Elias said. "Obviously when you have the start like we had it helps. No question."

Parise stretched the lead to 3-0, leaving the exasperated crowd that was at a frenzy in the pregame skate because of Jagr's appearance yelling at their struggling team that lost its eighth straight, dating to a late-season slide that cost it the Atlantic Division title to the Devils.

"This is a big rivalry here and we're definitely excited about the situation that we're in but we haven't won anything yet," Brodeur said.

Game notes
It was the Rangers' first home playoff game since May 23, 1997, a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia. ... The Devils scored only two even-strength goals in the 10 they had in the first two victories. ... New York also got left winger Martin Rucinsky back in the lineup. He missed 14 games after breaking his left index finger on March 24 and had surgery. Defenseman Darius Kasparaitis sat out his second straight after aggravating a groin injury. He expects to return in Game 4. ... New Jersey defenseman Colin White's groin injury forced him out of the lineup for the second consecutive game. ... The Rangers have an 81-75 advantage in shots in the series.