In a much-hyped game between two teams with very little history against one another, the Rangers went into Columbus Thursday night and skated away with a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Carl Hagelin scored twice and Ryan Callahan recorded a goal and an assist as the Rangers won their second game in as many nights and ran their recent record to five wins in their last six games.
Cam Talbot made his fourth start of the season between the pipes and stopped 32 of 34 shots as the Rangers reached the .500 mark (8-8-0) for the first time since the second game of the season. They will look to move past .500 for the first time all season when they host the Florida Panthers Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
For two teams that had faced each other only one time in the past two years, there was quite a bit of familarity amongst the Rangers and Blue Jackets Thursday night. The two teams---now rivals in the same Metropolitan Division---consummated a pair of major trades over the past two years, and Thursday marked the first meeting since the two deals that revolved around star players Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik swapping teams. None of the former Blue Jackets---Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett nor John Moore-- found their way on to the scoresheet, though Moore did take a coincidental roughing minor with Jared Boll in the third period. Ex-Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Gaborik both notched an assist, while Artem Anisimov was held pointless.
As a nod to their Columbus return, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault had four former Blue Jackets---Brassard, Dorsett, Moore, and Anton Stralman in the starting lineup along with forward Benoit Pouliot and with Talbot in goal.
After a somewhat sleepy---yet evenly played--first period in which both teams scored once and recorded ten shots on goal, the Rangers and Blue Jackets upped the energy level in an exciting middle 20 minutes, where the visitors emerged after two periods of play holding a 3-2 lead.
Hagelin opened the scoring with his first of the game just 4:16 into the opening period. The recipient of a perfect centering pass off the rush from Callahan, Hagelin redirected the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky for a 1-0 Rangers lead. However later in the period former Ranger defenseman Fedor Tyutin collected a pass in the offensive zone from Dubinsky, weaved his way through the slot, and then slipped a shot past Talbot for his first of the season at 17:31 to tie the game.
The second period started with a jolt as Brad Richards---who also assisted on Hagelin's game-opening goal---was sent in alone on Bobrovsky, only to be denied by last year's Vezina Trophy winner who made a sterling stick save on the breakaway at 1:22. Less than two minutes later it was Talbot's time to shine as he smothered a spin-o-rama shot by Anisimov.
Moments after Talbot's big save, Taylor Pyatt was on the receiving end of an elbow to the head delivered by Tyutin at 3:28. Clearly shaken, Pyatt slowly made his way to the bench and then locker room, and did not play again the remainder of the game, marking the second time this season a Rangers forward was elbowed in the head and forced out of action--the other, of course, being Nash who was forced to miss his return to Columbus on Thursday as he sat out his 13th straight game due to a head injury.
With Tyutin assessed an elbowing minor penalty, the Rangers quickly cashed in on the power play to take a 2-1 lead at 4:17 of the second period. Ryan McDonagh's slap shot was tipped twice---first by Mats Zuccarello and then by Callahan, who was credited with his fifth goal of the season and team-high third on the power play when the puck slithered past Bobrovsky. Since returning from a broken thumb Callahan has points in three consecutive games, with two goals and two assists in that span. McDonagh, credited with an assist, now has five points (2-3-5) in his last six contests, while Zuccarello has seven assists in his last six games.
The Rangers had another brief injury scare at the midway point of the second period when a Columbus shoot in inadvertantly hit Marc Staal in the chin. Staal feel to the ice and Zuccarello immediately skated to his side as the Rangers held their breath, especially considering Staal's recent past history with a concussion and severe eye injury. After regrouping, Staal skated off the ice and did not miss a shift the rest of the way.
A fortunate break pushed the Rangers lead to 3-1 at 12:44 of the middle period when Columbus forward Mark Letstu, under pressure from Hagelin, accidentally flipped the puck past his own goaltender, a surprised Bobrovsky. Hagelin was credited with the unassisted goal, and the Rangers---en-route to a commanding 21-shot second period performance---seemed in command of the game.
However Columbus answered right back as Ryan Murray's slap shot at 13:32 beat a partially-screened Talbot, cutting the Rangers advantage back down to one goal again. The score remained that way into the second intermission as Bobrovsky made several quality saves, including one on a Brian Boyle break-in at 17:32, with Talbot responding by shutting down a Dubinsky shorthanded opportunity off the rush with one minute to play in the second.
The Blue Jackets controlled the ation in the third period against a tiring Rangers team that played 24 hours prior, beating the Penguins 5-1 at The Garden. Talbot, though, remained calm and made 14 third-period saves before McDonagh scored an empty-netter with less than a minute to play to ice the road victory.