When Messier was on the ice, the Rangers competed. When Messier collapsed in pain trying to skate off a third-period shot to his left knee, so did the Rangers.
Jason Arnott scored twice as New Jersey erupted for four goals after Messier was hurt and the Devils extended their three-plus year unbeaten streak against the Rangers to 20 games with a 5-2 victory Wednesday night.
Messier downplayed his injury, which coach Ron Low did not think was serious.
"We climbed back into the game after a strong second period," Messier said. "We got caught up in the neutral zone in the third and they got some momentum. Those are things we can correct, and we will. But this was a good test for us. We have ground to make up, but I think we are slowly getting there."
Brian Rafalski and Jay Pandolfo also scored in the final period and Martin Brodeur stopped 18 shots as the Devils won a season-high sixth straight game following a six-game losing streak.
"There is no question we want to beat the Rangers every time we play them," Stevens said. "We don't wat to give them any life. They are a better team and they are playing better hockey. I am sure they are using this game as a yardstick so there is no doubt we wanted to beat them."
Manny Malhotra and Petr Nedved scored for the Rangers, whose last win against New Jersey was a 3-0 victory on Jan. 12, 1997. They are 0-14-6 since.
"We're playing much better," Messier said. "It was obvious to anyone watching the game tonight. Our overall team game is much better, we're getting a lot of contributions. The positive thing is just to keep improving and the wins will come."
For two periods, Messier's presence seemed to inspire New York.
It was 1-1 entering the third period, but the Devils grabbed the lead for good shortly after Messier was hit on the left knee by a shot 3:50 into the period. He skated to the bench and that's where he was at 4:34 when Arnott blasted a shot from the right sideboards over the shoulder of Mike Richter.
Messier staked onto the ice during a stoppage shortly after Arnott's third goal. He lifted his right leg up to test his balance and it gave out.
The Rangers did too a couple of minutes later.
Rafalski scored from the slot at 9:54, just seconds after a high-sticking penalty to Theo Fleury ended.
Nedved got New York within a goal on a breakaway less than a minute later, but the Devils never stopped applying pressure in outshooting New York 13-6 in the third period.
"We knew they were getting tired and we just wanted to come out hard and put the puck on the net in the third," Arnott said.
Pandolfo scored right in front on a nice setup by Turner Stevenson at 14:29. Arnott, who signed last week along with defenseman Scott Niedermayer, closed out the scoring less than two minutes later. He put in the rebound of Ken Daneyko's shot for his fourth goal in as many games.
Both teams had great chances in a fast-paced first period. Johan Witehall was stopped by Brodeur on an early breakaway and Scott Gomez had a shot from in close slide through the crease.
Bobby Holik opened the scoring with 1:33 left in the period with his sixth goal. Holik took a pass in stride from Stevenson and beat Richter with a shot from the dot in the right circe.
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