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NEW YORK — Ryan Carter snapped a tie with 4:24 left, and the New Jersey Devils posted a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers after blowing a three-goal lead in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
The Devils, who led 3-0 before the first period was half over, have a 3-2 edge in the series and can advance to face the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals with a win at home on Friday night. If the Rangers can stay alive then, Game 7 would be back in Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
The Devils seemed primed for an easy win when Stephen Gionta and Patrik Elias scored within the first 4:13 of the game. Travis Zajac made it 3-0 before the Rangers woke up and began chipping away.
Brandon Prust brought New York within 3-1 before the first period was over, and Ryan Callahan made it a one-goal game in the first minute of the second. The Garden really rocked when Marian Gaborik tied it at 3 just 17 seconds into the third with his first goal of the series.
But the comeback was all for naught. Carter put the Devils back in front, and Zach Parise sealed it with an empty-net goal in the closing seconds.
Once Gaborik tied it with an unassisted goal that ricocheted in off the skate of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, it appeared that the Rangers would ride the comeback all the way to one of the most stirring wins in team history — one that would rival stirring victories over New Jersey in the 1994 East finals.
Carter made sure it wouldn’t happen.
Ilya Kovalchuk knocked Michael Del Zotto off the puck in the right corner, and Gionta sent a pass in front to Carter — who had just charged in front from the bench — for a quick shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist.
“You have to (keep it together) this time of year,” Gionta said. “You have to have a short memory. Fortunately we did and came out with the victory.”
New Jersey was outshot 28-17 overall and had only six shots in the third period, but two of them went in. Now the Devils are on the verge of their first Cup finals appearance since they won their third title in 2003.
The Rangers were ultimately done in by another terrible start. For the 13th straight game in these playoffs, the team that scored first in New York’s contests has gone on to win the game. The Rangers had been on a pattern of win-one, lose-one, but now they are on the verge of elimination with their second two-game losing streak of a series.
The only time the Rangers have won two straight in a playoff series this year is when they overcame a 3-2 hole in the first round and knocked out Ottawa.
To make the finals now, New York will have to win a third consecutive seven-game series. The Rangers have already played 19 postseason games.