Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden the Rangers closed out a four-game homestand in much better fashion than how it started a week ago, defeating the San Jose Sharks 4-0. After a pair of 6-3 losses to begin four straight at home, the Rangers won two in a row to earn a split of the homestand and even their overall record at 3-3-0.
New York turned a scoreless game decidedly in its favor by scoring three times in the second period, including goals four seconds apart in the final minute of the period. Carl Hagelin opened the scoring at 13:01 of the middle stanza, and then Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash beat Sharks goalie Alex Stalock within a span of four seconds, tying the franchise record for fastest two goals scored.
Henrik Lundqvist--who absorbed those two ugly losses to start the homestand--bounced back nicely the last two games, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday before making 33 saves Sunday against a Sharks team that suffered its first regulation defeat of the young season (4-1-1).
Lundqvist received a helping hand from defenseman Matt Hunwick in keeping the Sharks off the scoreboard in the first period. Lundqvist let a right wing slap shot leak through him 6:20 into the game, and the puck rolled behind him towards the empty net; but Hunwick alertly sprinted in, reached out, and swept the puck off the goal line and out of harm's way. It was the closest San Jose would come to scoring in the game until Lundqvist robbed a wide-open Patrick Marleau with a sprawling pad stop with six minutes to play in the third period.
The shutout was Lundqvist's first of the season. He now has 51 regular season shutouts in his career, a franchise record he keeps adding to.
Later in the opening period the Rangers though they had taken a 1-0 lead when Ryan Malone pounded the puck from under Stalock's pads and over the goal line with 3.2 seconds left on the clock. However the on ice call was that the referee had blown the play dead, and video review upheld the call.
The Rangers picked up their play in the second period and began to wear down a Sharks team that was playing on successive nights and for the third time in four nights, closing out a four-game road trip. New York piled up 17 shots in the middle twenty, as opposed to seven in the first period, and Stalock's penchant for giving up rebounds finally caught to him in the second half of the second period.
Hagelin fired a long shot directly at Stalock, who coughed the puck up into the slot. The speedy Swede skated in and chipped the rebound past Stalock handing New York a 1-0 lead with his first goal of 2014-15. It marked the first time in six games this season that the Sharks did not record the game's first goal.
That 1-0 advantage looked like it would have to hold up into the third period, but a stunning turn of events with less than a minute to play in the second changed the entire complexion of the game. St. Louis was credited with his first goal after he whacked the puck from in-tight between the post and Stalock's pads at 19:16, an unassisted goal. Then on the following faceoff, Nash pushed the puck up ahead and Stalock came out of his net, directed the disc right back on to Nash's stick. Nash proceeded to slip a shot between Stalock's pads for his league-leading seventh goal at 19:20, just four seconds after St. Louis had scored.
Rookie Kevin Hayes put an exclamation point on this victory by scoring his first NHL goal 7:18 into the third period, capping what was an extremely strong performance by the 22 year-old, who had been moved up to center Nash and Chris Kreider in this game. Hayes had generated several scoring chances during the game--including one where he stole the puck behind the Sharks net, fed Kreider in the left circle, before Kreider passed to Nash in the slot for a prime scoring chance with 90 seconds to play in the opening period. He also was stoned by Stalock's pads on a glorious chance in the second period from the low slot.
Hayes persevered and found his way on to the score sheet in the third, though, with an unassisted goal on a snap shot from the right circle. His first goal--and NHL point of any kind--came in only his fourth game played.
Earlier in the period there was a skirmish by the Rangers bench following a cross-checking penalty by San Jose's Andrew Desjardins. During the melee New York's Tanner Glass sought out Desjardins, and the pair engaged in a long angry fight, with Glass receiving a huge ovation afterwards from the Garden Faithful.
One downer for the Rangers on Sunday was the fact that defenseman Dan Girardi was knocked out of the game early in the third period with an unspecified injury and did not return to action.
Having won two straight the Rangers hit the road next week to face the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.