Rangers aim to return to winning ways vs. Devils

On Monday, the New York Rangers turned in one of their worst performances in several weeks while facing a team clinging to playoff hopes.

The Rangers hope to avoid another letdown against a team outside of the playoff picture on Wednesday night when they attempt to complete a season sweep of the visiting New Jersey Devils.

The Rangers (50-21-4, 104 points) are bidding to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since March 2-4, when they fell in a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs and dropped a two-goal decision to the Florida Panthers. New York went on a 10-2-0 run after those losses before falling 5-2 to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

The Rangers surrendered the first three goals before Kaapo Kakko and Jack Roslovic scored in the third period. After those goals, the Rangers gave up two empty-net tallies to cap a game in which they fell behind 18 seconds in following a turnover by captain Jacob Trouba.

“You can’t spot a team two goals and expect to win in this league,” New York’s Jimmy Vesey said. “Going down two that early in the game changes the whole dynamic. You’re chasing the game. A few too many mistakes tonight.”

The Rangers made few mistakes in winning the first three matchups with the Devils. After outscoring them 10-4 in the first two meetings in Newark, N.J., New York scored twice in the second period of a 3-1 home win on March 11.

The most recent meeting saw rookie Matt Rempe deliver a high hit to New Jersey’s Jonas Siegenthaler late in the second period. Rempe served a four-game suspension for the play and could be in the lineup Wednesday after sitting out the previous three games.

“We gotta win. The division games are always, I think, a little bit more competitive,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette told reporters after practice Tuesday. “There’s probably a little bit of, when you play inside your division more than you do anyone else, there’s probably a little bit more tension inside those games.”

After beating the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs last spring, the Devils (36-35-4, 76 points) are six points behind the Washington Capitals in the race for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games left. The Devils have one fewer game left than Washington and also trail the Buffalo Sabres, Penguins, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings.

The Devils are finding consistency elusive as they are 5-5-0 in the past 10 games since the last meeting with the Rangers. New Jersey took its latest loss when it allowed five goals in the third period of a 6-3 setback to the Penguins on Tuesday.

Timo Meier scored late in the first period and Curtis Lazar and Jesper Bratt tallied in the second. The Devils, however, allowed the Penguins to tie it with two goals in a span of 67 seconds.

“I thought we played a good game for 40 minutes,” Meier said. “The last period we pretty much gave it away. It stinks. We need to learn from this right away, but it definitely stinks.”

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