By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Rangers, battling sheer exhaustion as much as their opponents, drew first blood in their National Hockey League playoff against the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
Back at Madison Square Garden just two days after winning their second straight seven-game series, the battle-hardened Rangers drew on all their reserves of stamina to win the opening game of the Eastern Conference final 3-0.
After two scoreless periods, defenseman Dan Girardi broke the stalemate less than a minute into the third then forward Chris Kreider blasted a second goal eight minutes from the end.
Russian center Artem Anisimov wrapped up the scoring by putting the puck into an empty net to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Devils were the fresher of the two teams after wrapping up their semi-final against the Philadelphia Flyers in five games almost a week ago but could not find a way past Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
The Swede, one of three players shortlisted for this season's MVP award, was an impenetrable force at the back, saving all 21 shots fired at his goal.
New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur turned away 25 shots but was helpless to stop Girardi's blast after Kreider tracked down a bouncing puck.
Revitalized by the goal, the Rangers sealed their victory when Kreider scored on a power play and Anisimov guided the puck into the empty net after Brodeur was pulled.
Game two will be back at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday before the series moves over the Hudson River to New Jersey for games three and four.
The winner will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup final against either Los Angeles or Phoenix.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)