Carl Hagelin was forced to sit out the first ten games of the season as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, but he sure is making up for lost time since returning to the lineup. Saturday night at Madison Square Garden Hagelin scored twice, leading the Rangers to a 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, boosting the team's winning streak to three straight games---coinciding with the popular Swede coming off the LTIR.
Not to be outdone, Derek Stepan recorded the second Hat Trick of his NHL career, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped xx of xx shots as the Rangers pounced on a struggling ooponent for the second game in a row. On Thursday they shut out the league-worst Buffalo Sabres 2-0 behind a 48-shot blitz, and on Saturday night the Blueshirts scored a season-high five goals against a team that had been blanked the night before on home ice by the Tampa Bay Lightning and which has now lost five games in a row.
The Rangers were outshot 6-2 in the early stages of the first period, but Lundqvist---coming off Thursday's shutout---was extremely sharp keeping the 'Canes off of the scoreboard. That lackluster start abruptly came to an end when Hagelin provided his first bolt of energy 8:26 into that opening period. A quick succession of passes from Bard Richards to Benoit Pouliot, and then on to Hagelin in full flight led to the speedy winger cruisng into the offensive zone, crossing from left to right in the slot, and whipping a backhand shot past goaltender Justin Peters for his first goal of the season.
Hagelin doubled the home team's lead at 8:16 of the second period when he raced out of the penalty box after serving a tripping minor, beat everyone to a puck flung the length of the ice by Taylor Pyatt, and then proceeded to tuck the disc between Peters' pads for his second goal. The two-goal outing equaled Hagelin's career-best, and was the fourth time in his career he had scored twice in a single game.
Skating on the power play seven minutes later, the Rangers made it 3-0 when Stepan netted his first goal of the season. Ryan McDonagh's orginal shot was stopped in front, but Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello battled to keep the play alive, and Stepan swooped into the slot to zip a quick forehand shot past Peters at 15:54. The goal marked the third straight game in which the Rangers scored a power play goal. Seven of Stepan's eight points (1-7-8) have come on the power play so far this season, and he has now scored goals in four consecutive games against Carolina.
Stepan also scored at 9:09 of the third period, one-timing a perfect Zuccarello pass from behind the net past Peters to mke the score 4-1. And then Stepan finished his first three-goal game since his NHL debut on October 9, 2010 in Buffalo with 5:23 to play, coverting another pretty feed from Zuccarello.
Kreider and Zuccarello both extended their personal point scoring streaks to three straght games by earning assists on all three of Stepan's goals; and Kreider established a new career-high with his fourth, fifth points, and sixth (in six games) of the season. Last year Kreider managed three points in 23 games. The game also marked Kreider's first multi-point game of his young NHL career.
Carolina managed to break through against Lundqvist with 36.2 seconds to play in the second period when Andrej Sekera's left wing shot on the power play caromed off Anton Stralman's glove to deflect past the Rangers goalie and into the cage and cut the Blueshirts lead to 3-1 before the second intermission could arrive.
Hagelin nearly completed his first NHL hat trick early in the third period, but Peters---Carolina's third-string goalie, playing due to injuries suffered by Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin---made a nice save to deny him. Hagelin energized the Rangers throughout on Saturday, just as he did in Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Islanders--in which he assisted on Benoit Pouliot's game-winning goal--and in Thursday's home-ice triumph over Buffalo.
The Rangers (6-7-0, 12 pts) will look to run their winning streak to four straight games Monday night when they host the Anaheim Ducks at The Garden, while also seeking to even their record at .500 for the first time since the second game of the season.