Stymied through two periods of play, the Rangers scored four times in the third period to rally past the Carolina Hurricanes in dramatic fashion, 4-2, Friday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh. The win snapped New York's three-game winless skid and solidified its hold on third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Derek Stepan scored the game-winner with 2:46 remaining in regulation, off a gorgeous goal-mouth feed from Martin St. Louis with the Rangers skating on a 5-on-3 power play. The goal was Stepan's first in ten games and 11th of the season, and the assist was St. Louis' first point as a Ranger after being acquired from Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
"We knew there was a minute and a half of a 5-on-3 so you can't rush anything, just be patient and take what they give you, and I think we did a good job of that," St. Louis said after the game. "Obviously that was a big goal by Stepan, and I'm happy to get the win."
The 5-on-3 came to be when Carolina took back-to-back delay of games penalties, handing New York 88 seconds of a two-man advantage. The Rangers--with St. Louis and Brad Richards controlling the pace--were extremely patient, and St. Louis finally slipped a pass from right to left across the crease where Stepan roofed his shot over Khudobin.
Henrik Lundqvist made 22 saves in earning the 299th victory of his NHL career. Carolina's Anton Khudobin was often brilliant in goal for the Hurricanes, finishing with 40 saves.
"We all know how important the points are right now, but coming off a couple losses we needed this badly," explained Lundqvist. "Playing a team that is right there with us, it was great to see how we responded the final six minutes. And we played a really strong game, I think."
Twice the Rangers erased one-goal deficits in the third period, showing tremendous resolve, especially considering how Khudobin had played so magnificently the first two periods, stopping all 26 shots he faced through 40 minutes of play.
Trailing 1-0, and frustrated at every turn by Khudobin, the Rangers finally broke through 7:25 into the third period--and did so just as they did in their previous game Wednesday against the Maple Leafs, by scoring while shorthanded.
Just as he did with the Rangers losing 2-0 in the third period on Wednesday, Ryan McDonagh got the Rangers on the board with a clutch shortie against Khudobin and the Hurricanes on Friday night. With the Rangers holding a 3-on-2 advantage in the offensive zone, Nash fed McDonagh on right wing and the Blueshirts' defenseman hammered a shot past Khudobin for his 11th goal of the season, and team-high third while shorthanded.
Wednesday during the Rangers 3-2 overtime loss, both of their goals came while shorthanded--by McDonagh and Dominic Moore--meaning New York notched three straight shorties over two games.
Carolina, though, took a 2-1 lead with 7:53 remaining in the third period when Jeff Skinner scored his team-high 24th goal, beating Lundqvist on a penalty shot. He was awarded the penalty shot because Anton Stralman had hooked him on a breakaway moments before.
However Nash answered back for New York less than two minutes later, scoring his 20th goal when his right-wing shot hit the stick of 'Canes defenseman Andrej Sekera in front and deflected past Khudobin. Nash has now produced ten consecutive 20-goal seasons.
Mats Zuccarello returned to the Rangers lineup after sitting out the first four games following the Olympic break due to a non-displaced fracture in his left hand. Zuccarello fit right back in, energizing the team's offense all night long, reinvigorating his linemates Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard in the process. Zuccarello picked up an assist, had three shots on goal, and was credited with three hits--and twice he nearly scored, with video review needed both times to confirm that he had not beaten Khudobin.
"He didn't miss a beat," head coach Alain Vigneault said of Zuccarello. "He was real solid. I thought he played a real strong game."
Appearing in his second game as a Ranger, St. Louis tied Nash for the team-high with five shots on goal and, of course, had the clutch primary assist on Stepan's game-winning goal.
With the victory in their back pocket the Rangers head back to New York where they will host the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon. Then the Rangers will come right back down to Raleigh and face off with the Hurricanes again next Tuesday.