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 night at Madison Square Garden.

Playing just 2 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 the playoffs. The Devils had been off for 5 days since they knocked out the 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.

"I think it starts with work habits, how hard we want to work," Lundqvist said. "And then the skill takes over. We have been doing it all year."

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 got a perfect setup from Kreider and scored 53 seconds into the third period to break a 0-0 tie.

Noteworthy * 

Dale Hunter quit as coach of the Washington Capitals after less than one full season in the job, telling the team he wants to return to his family in Canada.

"It was the right thing to do," Hunter said.

He is the owner of the London Knights, of the Ontario Hockey League, a junior hockey team currently playing for the Memorial Cup. One of his three children is an assistant coach with the Knights, and Hunter's brother Mark took over as head coach when Hunter left to join the Capitals in November, replacing the fired Bruce Boudreau.

"I'm going home," Hunter said, a couple of hours after delivering the news to Capitals general manager George McPhee. "I've got a good thing going there with the family, so I'll stay home."

Hunter met with McPhee at the team's practice facility on Monday morning, two days after the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7.

"We could have very easily won that series," McPhee said.

The GM said he didn't even attempt to change Hunter's mind, because "there's no gray in Dale's life."

"I'd rather have him for 6 months than not at all," McPhee said.

* Todd Richards will stay on as the Columbus Blue Jackets' coach.

Richards became interim coach in January when Scott Arniel was fired. The team said that he had agreed to a 2-year contract after the Blue Jackets' record improved under the 45-year-old former Minnesota Wild coach.

Richards led Columbus for the final 41 games of the season after being elevated from assistant coach.