NEW YORK -- Mike Gartner, who has a reputation for not coming through in the playoffs, quieted his critics Monday night -- but it took some late heroics by Adam Graves to ensure his performace didn't go to waste.
Gartner notched his second career playoff hat trick and Graves scored twice in a span of 2:27 in the third period to silence a New Jersey comeback and lift the New York Rangers to an 8-5 triumph over the Devils and a 3-2 lead in their opening-round playoff series.
New York, which scored three power-play goals to break out of a 1- for-22 slump, can wrap up the best-of-seven Patrick Division semifinal with a victory in Game 6 Wednesday night in New Jersey.
Mark Messier collected three assists and Mike Richter made 43 saves. Richter, who was coming off his second career playoff shutout, had his playoff scoreless string against New Jersey halted at 129 minutes and 24 seconds.
'At first I think we got a couple of breaks on a few goals,' said Gartner, who scored twice in the first period to give New York a 2-0 lead.
'After it was 5-0, we basically let up a little bit, and they took full advantage. It was a much tougher game than it really should have been at the end.'
New York built a 5-0 lead in the second period on Gartner's three goals and one apiece by Joey Kocur and Doug Weight -- chasing New Jersey starter Chris Terreri from the net in favor of rookie Martin Brodeur.
The advantage was short-lived, however, as New Jersey scored four straight goals to cut the lead to one early in the third period.
Rookie rookie Kevin Todd and Alexei Kasatonov scored 2:56 apart late in the second to close to within 5-2. In the third, Scott Stevens and Valeri Zelepukin added goals 1:52 apart to make it 5-4.
With New York clinging to the one-goal lead, Kris King converted on one of three two-on-one advantages to give the Rangers some breathing room at 7:30. Just 27 seconds later, however, rookie Bill Guerin blew a slap shot by Richter to pull New Jersey to within 6-5.
'They don't give up. They're a good hockey team,' said Graves, who then scored two straight goals, both off a two-on-ones set up by Messier, to put the game away.
'Anytime you get down 5-0, you have to give something up to get back in the game,' said Devils forward Pat Conacher when asked about the defensive breakdowns that led to Graves' goals. 'We had to pinch in, and we got caught a couple of times.'
Graves beat a shaky Brodeur on a soft shot along the ice at 13:22 and again on a rising wrist shot into the upper-left corner at 15:49.
'They gave us a tough game right to the end, and we know it's going to get tougher,' said Graves.
After the first period, it looked as though the Rangers would cruise to an easy victory.
Gartner got things rolling when he converted off a two-on-one.
The right winger took advantage of an attempted poke check by Devils defenseman Stevens at the Rangers blue line. With Stevens trapped up ice and only defenseman Eric Weinrich back, Gartner rushed down the right side, faked a shot and skated to the edge of the crease before sweeping a shot over Terreri's glove at 10:41 for a 1-0 lead.
With just 1:46 left in the period, Gartner added a power-play goal, just New York's second in 23 attempts. Stationed in the high slot, Gartner accepted Sergei Nemchinov's pass off the right-wing boards and one-timed a shot past Terreri.
With the Rangers enjoying a five-on-three advantage in the second, Gartner swept in a feed from Brian Leetch for a 3-0 advantage.