New York Rangers' Nigel Dawes, center, reacts as teammate Ryan Callahan (24) approaches to help him up after Dawes scored on New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, right, during the third period of a hockey game Thursday, March 27, 2008 in New York. The Rangers won the game 3-2. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Frank Franklin II
NEW YORK - Scott Gomez's sore ribs held up against a pounding from his former team. Nigel Dawes' crease-crashing, sliding goal stood up to a video replay.
Add that together, and suddenly the New York Rangers are tied with the New Jersey Devils in the ever-crowded Eastern Conference playoff race. Gomez had two assists in his return following a one-game absence, Dawes scored the tiebreaking goal while sliding on his back into goalie Martin Brodeur late in the third period, and the Rangers beat the Devils for the seventh straight time this season, 3-2 Thursday night.
Gomez, the Rangers' leading scorer, was a question mark when he took the ice for the pre-game warmup but rejoined the lineup just six days after crashing into the boards at Philadelphia.
"Once you go in the warmup, the adrenaline's going to be going and you're going to go no matter what," he said. "You want to be able to help your team out and get the points."
Dawes made that possible by netting the winner with a whole lot of help.
"As ugly as it was, it was pretty," Rangers coach Tom Renney said.
A pass by Chris Drury, who assisted on every New York goal, hit the skate of Devils defenceman Sheldon Brookbank and caromed in on Brodeur. He steered the puck into the onrushing Dawes, on the ice after being knocked down by Travis Zajac. Both players barreled into the crease, with Dawes pushing the puck over the line with his shoulder with 3:06 left.
"I was just kind of mad I got hooked," Dawes said. "That's the craziest goal I've probably scored in my career. I'll take it. It's a huge two points. Good things happen when you go to the net like that."
It was enough to rally the Rangers, who trailed 2-1 entering the third period, and send the Devils to their fifth straight loss (0-4-1). The teams are tied in the Eastern Conference playoff race with 91 points, but New Jersey is in fifth place because it owns two more wins than New York.
The teams have five games remaining, including one more head-to-head matchup on the final day of the season. They trail fourth-place Ottawa by one point, but have an extra game to play.
Christian Backman made up for his second-period gaffe that led to the Devils' go-ahead goal by tying it in the third during a power play. Brendan Shanahan had given the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the first by helping New York snap out of a 1-for-30 skid with the man-advantage.
Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves for his 35th win.
Brodeur made 28 saves, including a snatching glove shot during Ryan Callahan's third-period breakaway. New Jersey has lost three times after regulation to the Rangers, including a game last week when New York got even in the third.
"This is probably one of the toughest ones," Brodeur said. "We played extremely well for the first two periods. We were on the ball and we finally scored some goals. We had the momentum. They played better than we did in the third.
"The ones in the shootout are one thing. When you lose in regulation, on a lucky goal like that, it's tough to digest."
Patrik Elias and Zach Parise scored in the second for the Devils, on their longest losing streak since a six-game skid in November 2000.
Backman set up Dawes' heroics when he took a pass from Gomez a few feet inside the blue line and snapped a shot that beat Brodeur stickside at 1:38 of the third.
Parise's 31st goal, and first in eight games, was made possible by Backman's turnover on a clearing attempt. The Rangers defenseman skated backward in the zone with the puck, but instead of going up the boards to get it out, he put it into open ice and right on Parise's stick.
"He could've made a pretty simple play, and he tried to make a difficult play," Renney said.
The speedy Parise was in alone on Lundqvist and ripped a drive in to put the Devils ahead 2-1 with 1:47 left in the second. New Jersey hadn't scored as many as two goals in its four-game skid, managing a total of three.
Elias had tied it about seven minutes earlier when he deflected a right-point shot from defenseman Paul Martin past Lundqvist at 11:38. That snapped the Devils' scoreless streak at 142 minutes, 34 seconds - mostly accrued during a home-and-home sweep by Pittsburgh in which New Jersey was outscored 9-1.
"We can't afford to lose games like this at this time of year," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "It's extremely frustrating for us, a team that prides itself on being able to finish games."
Shanahan snapped an eight-game goal drought 5:21 into the second period.
"When I saw Shanny's go in," Drury said, "it felt better than any other power-play goal or any other goal this year."
Notes: The Rangers had gone 14 games without scoring more than one goal on the power play. ... Devils D Bryce Salvador missed his fifth straight game (leg-foot).