Perhaps call it a lesson learned. Forty-eight hours after dropping a 4-3 decision to a Calgary Flames team that is out of playoff contention, the Rangers buried the Edmonton Oilers 5-0 Sunday night at Rexall Place, beating a team which has the second-fewest points in the National Hockey League.
"It was a huge bounce back," Rick Nash said after the game. "We knew our defensive play in front of our net was not good enough in Calgary and we left (Henrik Lundqvist) out to dry a bit, but this game was totally different. We played really tight around our net, which was key."
The victory lifted New York two points clear of the Philadelphia Flyers—who were beaten 4-3 by the Boston Bruins in the shootout earlier in the day—for second place in the Metropolitan Division. It also marked New York’s 24th road win of the season, equaling the franchise record, which was achieved three times before, most recently during the 2011-12 season.
Nash and Mats Zuccarello both scored twice--including once each shorthanded, and Derek Stepan contributed three assists--including a pair while shorthanded--on Sunday. Zuccarello also had an assist to finish with three points.
Cam Talbot made his first start in nine games in goal and earned his third shutout of the season. Though he faced only three shots in the first period, Talbot was forced to make a handful of difficult saves over the course of the game, finishing with 26 on the night. He now has held the opposition to two goals or fewer in 15 of his 18 starts so far this season.
"That was obviously a big two points, that was the biggest thing tonight," said Talbot. "We knew we had to come out flying because they have a lot of skilled guys and nothing to lose right now, so we knew it would be a high-tempo game. We played really solid defensively, so our guys made it really easy for me."
Though there were only 11 combined shots on goal in the first period, and only one goal scored, there were several big moments as the Rangers skated into the first intermission holding a 1-0 advantage.
Zuccarello scored the lone goal of the opening period, neatly deflecting Anton Stralman’s slap shot past Edmonton goalie Ben Scrivens at the 16:30 mark. The goal was Zuccarello’s 16th of the season, and first in 18 games dating back to the January 26th outdoor contest against the Devils at Yankee Stadium.
The scoring play was set in motion by Benoit Pouliot, who earned the secondary assist. Moments after being blasted into the boards behind Edmonton’s net on a hard hit delivered by Oilers defenseman Mark Fraser, an angry Pouliot chased down a loose puck outside the blue line, danced around Edmonton’s David Perron, and then slid the puck over to an open Stralman.
With 17.5 seconds to play in the first, the Rangers thought they had doubled their lead when Dominic Moore—who earlier in the day found out he had been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy—flipped a loose puck into the net off a scramble in front of Scrivens. However the referee had already blown his whistle as Brian Boyle and Scrivens scrummed in the crease, and the play was considered dead.
Nash very nearly scored earlier in the opening period, too, but Scrivens made a sensational right-pad stop on Nash’s forehand attempt off a partial breakaway. Marty St. Louis came close to netting his first as a Ranger in the same period when his right wing shot off a give-and-go with Brad Richards trickled through Scrivens’ pads, but fell short of the goal line as St. Louis and Carl Hagelin tried in vain to reach the puck.
St. Louis was robbed by a diving Scrivens early in the second period, and just when it seemed like the Rangers might be more than a little bit snakebit, the pucks started going in.
Derick Brassard scored a power play goal 4:38 into the second period when his right-wing shot deflected off an Oilers stick and went through a perfect Pouliot screen in front—with Raphael Diaz and Zuccarello picking up the assists. Brassard set a new personal single-season high by netting his 18th of the season.
Moments after killing off an Oilers power play, the Rangers struck again to take a 3-0 lead at 9:07 of the second period. Nash, who had just missed a chance to the side of the net, collected the loose puck and banked a shot in off Scrivens from behind the goal line, one the Edmonton goalie who had made 48 saves in beating the Anaheim Ducks Friday night surely wanted back.
"I saw (Daniel) Carcillo in front and just tried getting the puck over there," explained Nash. "It was a lucky goal."
Nash wasn’t done, however. He scored his second goal of the game, and second shorthanded goal this season, at 13:26 to make it 4-0 Rangers. After Taylor Hall wildly missed the net on a shot in the Rangers zone, Derek Stepan took off on a 2-on-1 with Nash, feeding the puck to No. 61 who zipped a left wing shot short side for his team-leading 25th goal of the season. Nash has now scored 25 or more goals in nine of his 11 NHL seasons.
Zuccarello also scored shorthanded 3:49 into the third period ninth shortie of the season. Marc Staal's interceptions started the scoring play, which concluded with Stepan winning a puck battle to feed Zuccarello for a shot from the slot that beat Scrivens cleanly--his 17th goal of the season.
"Any time we can play with the lead we are a tough team to beat," noted Stepan, who tied a career-high with his three assists. "As far as the shorthanded goals, any time you go out to kill a penalty you want to make sure you keep the puck out of your net. If you get the opportunity to jump on something you try and jump on it; but it's not like we planned on offense off our penalty kill tonight."
Winners of six of their last seven games, the Rangers continue their road trip Tuesday night in Vancouver, where head coach Alain Vigneault returns to face his former team, the Canucks.