By IRA PODELL   AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Rangers rookie Chris Kreider and defenseman Dan
Girardi both had a goal and an assist in the third period, and
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 shots for his fifth career playoff
shutout, as weary New York opened the Eastern Conference finals
with a 3-0 victory over the well-rested New Jersey Devils on Monday

Playing just two days after eliminating Washington in a stirring
2-1 Game 7 victory, the top-seeded Rangers hit their home ice again
and won their third straight Game 1 of these playoffs. The Devils
had been off for five days since they knocked out the Philadelphia
Flyers in five games.

No team forced to play seven-game series in each of the first
two rounds has gone on to win the Stanley Cup, but the Rangers are
determined to be the first. Shaking off suggestions they are tired,
the Rangers slogged through two scoreless periods and pulled out a
win with a dominating third period.

The Rangers are in the conference finals for the first time
since 1997, and they haven’t reached the Stanley Cup finals since
1994 when they beat 22-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur and the
Devils in a classic seven-game series that backed up captain Mark
Messier’s guarantee.

New Jersey is making its first conference finals appearance
since 2003, the year the Devils won the Cup for the third time.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in New York.

Girardi, who struggled at times with his defensive duties, got a
perfect setup from Kreider and scored 53 seconds into the third
period. Playing in just his 13th NHL game, all in these playoffs,
Kreider sent a pass back from the right circle in the Devils’ zone
to the point. Girardi took long strides as he charged up ice and
stepped into a shot that ripped through a screen in front by
teammate Derek Stepan. The shot beat Brodeur for Girardi’s second
playoff goal this season and second in 47 career postseason games.

The other assist went to 21-year-old defenseman Michael Del
Zotto, who along with Kreider was only 3 when these teams last met
in the conference finals in `94.

Girardi also earned a secondary assist on Kreider’s power-play
goal with 8 minutes remaining that made it 2-0. New York’s slumping
power play connected after Girardi was drilled hard from behind
into the boards by Devils forward Steve Bernier.

Artem Anisimov, who also assisted on Kreider’s goal, scored into
an empty net to make it 3-0 with 1:27 left.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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