Yet again Sunday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers found themselves trailing early on, but unlike recent games on home ice the Blueshirts did not let the early deficit get the best of them. Instead the Rangers rallied, took over the game, and defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-1, the team's first win in regulation since a 3-1 victory in Buffalo on December 5th.
The win was the second for the Rangers through the first eight games of their nine-game homestand. The Rangers are now 2-4-2 on the homestand, which concludes Monday night with an Original Six contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their only other victory on this homestand was a 4-3 shootout victory over Calgary last Sunday.
Cam Talbot earned his seventh win in nine starts this season, stopping 24 of 25 shots. It was his first start between the pipes since a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on December 2nd, and his first appearance since he relieved Henrik Lundqvist during the Blueshirts 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 12th.
Talbot was especially sharp in the first period, stopping 10 of 11 shots--allowing only a slam dunk goal off a simply gorgeous cross-ice pass by Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter. He faced only 14 more shots the rest of the game; and he has now allowed two goals or fewer in eight of his nine starts this season.
Derick Brassard recorded his second multiple-point game of the season with a pair of assists and four different Rangers scored goals to lead the home team to victory.
For the seventh consecutive game the Rangers surrendered the first goal on Sunday, but this time they did not let their opponent build a multi-goal lead, instead rallying to create a lead of more than one goal for themselves, built largely on a dominating second period.
After Jason Pominville's goal just 4:08 into the game there was no question the home team was reeling, and their deficit nearly became two when Pominville's deflection hit the post to Talbot's left at 9:50 of the first period. However the Rangers settled the game down and pulled even before the first intermission arrived and then created separation over the next 20 minutes to carry a 3-1 lead into the third period.
Benoit Pouliot scored a power play goal at 16:08 of the opening period to draw the Rangers even on the scoreboard. Cutting through the low slot from left to right, Pouliot redirected Ryan McDonagh's pass/shot past Niklas Backstrom for his fifth goal of the season, third on the power play, and third in the last six games. Pouliot now has a four-game point-scoring streak, while the assist was McDonagh's 20th point of the season.
After a difficult start to the game, with a string of early icings, turnovers, and poor coverage in their own end of the ice, the Rangers reached the first intermission tied 1-1 and actually ahead of the Wild 12-11 in shots on goal. That late-period momentum would carry over into the second stanza as the Rangers would outshoot Minnesota 17-5 in the middle 20 minutes with Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello scoring the only goals of the period.
Hagelin struck first, giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 11:26 when his quick release from the lower right circle seemed to surprise Backstrom. The puck went in off of the Wild goalie--playing in the place of the team's injured No. 1 Josh Harding, who leads the NHL with a 1.51 goals against average---just nine seconds after the Blueshirts had adeptly killed off a penalty to Brian Boyle. Firing out of the penalty box Boyle accepted a long head-man pass to start the scoring play as he and Derek Dorsett picked up assists on Hagelin's eighth goal of the season, and third in the last four games.
The Rangers put an exclamation mark on their superior second period when Brassard made a nifty steal on the backcheck to deny Minnesota's Mikko Koivu a scoring chance, and then weaved his way the entire length of the ice before carrying the puck behind the Wild net, and centering in front to Zuccarello who one-timed a shot into the back of the cage for a 3-1 Blueshirts lead at 18:35. The goal was Zuccarello's eighth of the season; and he now has four points in his last three games and 15 in his last 15 contests.
Perhaps no better sign that Sunday was finally their day occurred with 7:14 remaining in the game when Chris Kreider fanned on a left wing shot, only to see the puck somehow sneak under Backstrom for the Rangers fourth goal of the game. A laughing Kreider celebrated with teammates as a sense of things finally going the Rangers way swept over The Garden.
The goals was Kreider's ninth of the season, pulling him into a tie with Brad Richards for the team lead.
The Rangers now look to end their frustrating homestand on a high note Monday night against the Maple Leafs, seeking back-to-back wins before entering the three-day holiday break.