Rick Nash led the way Tuesday night in Calgary, scoring twice and leading the Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The victory was New York's third in four nights in Western Canada, and upped the Rangers winning streak to a season-high four consecutive games.
Henrik Lundqvist did his part, too, making 15 saves in the second period alone, and stopping 29 of 31 shots overall, to earn his 13th win of the season.
"It was a good trip for us," stated Lundqvist after the win. "We played some good teams and we played with patience, and a lot of different things went our way. We needed to put together more than one or two good games, and we need to start winning. We're still not in a good (playoff) position, so we need to keep pushing ourselves here to keep playing well and find ways to win hockey games."
It was Nash, though, who put forth another monster game Tuesday night, carrying his teammates early on while most of the players wearing a white jersey struggled to get going in the first period. Nash scored a gorgeous breakaway goal to open the scoring midway through that somewhat listless first period, then netted a shorthanded goal early in the second to give the visitors a 3-0 lead at the time.
"This year he's finding the back of the net, and he's an elite player--this is no shock to any of us," said Derek Stepan, who contributed a goal and assist to Monday's victory. "It's really cool to see how he's just so impressive every night, just so impressive."
The two goals give Nash 20 already this season, in only 29 games played. This is the 11th consecutive season in which Nash has scored 20 goals, his third straight with the Rangers. He is just six goals shy of equaling his single-season best as a Blueshirt, having scored 26 in 65 games a year ago.
Nash also pushed his point-scoring streak to 11 consecutive games, further extending the longest such streak of his career.
"We need him to play the way he is," head coach Alain Vigneault said of Nash. "We're no different from any other team in the league, you need your top players to be your top performers, and that's what Rick's doing for us right now."
With neither team really asserting itself in the first period, Nash collected a puck along the right-wing boards in his own zone and jetted off the other way, skating through all three zones before beating Flames goalie Karri Ramo to finish a highlight-reel unassisted rush at 11:22.
The Rangers doubled their advantage, scoring with just 7.8 seconds remaining in the first period, to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission despite mustering only seven shots on Ramo. With New York on the power play, Mats Zuccarello hammered a long left-wing shot on goal which was stopped by Ramo. However Calgary defenseman Kris Russel pushed the loose puck back towards his unsuspecting goaltender, and an alert Chris Kreider pounced on the misplayed disc and poked it over the goal line for his first goal in 14 games, and fifth of the season.
"It just looked like there was a little miscommunication between the goalie and the defenseman, so I just tried to kind of throw my stick in there and (the puck) went in," explained Kreider. "There's no other word to describe it other than greasy."
Calgary was awarded its first power play of the game 2:44 into the second period, but it was Nash who would deflate the Flames hopes of getting back into the game by scoring a shorthanded goal just 22 seconds later. Dan Girardi started the play with a takeaway in his own end, sending Nash and Stepan off the other way. Nash buried a feed from Stepan to record his third shorty of the season, the 20th shorthanded goal of his NHL career.
"It's impressive to see, and I think it gives the team a lot of confidence to know that we have a player like that that can raise his game to that level and be the difference a lot of times," Lundqvist said of Nash. "I enjoy watching him."
The Flames came close to cutting into the visitor's lead midway through the second, but when all was said and done they instead were facing a 4-0 deficit after Stepan scored his third of the season at 11:15. Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman hammered a shot off the cross bar behind Lundqvist, and the Rangers collected the hard rebound and whisked off with Stepan taking a Marty St. Louis pass, skating along the right-wing wall, carrying the puck behind Ramo's net, and then beating the Flames goalie with a slick wraparound--his first goal in nine games.
Calgary coach Bob Hartley had seen enough of Ramo at that point and replaced him in goal with Jonas Hiller. Ramo exited having surrendered four goals on 13 shots.
The move seemed to spark the Flames, who scored 41 seconds later on a Jiri Hudler redirection, and then kept the heat on the Rangers. Lundqvist, though, was up to the challenge, playing his best hockey of the night when his team needed him the most.
The Rangers had a pair of excellent chances to score late in the second, but first Zuccarello, then Girardi on the rebound, was robbed point-blank by Hiller. Lundqvist--once with help in the crease from defenseman Kevin Klein--answered back for New York several times in the third period to ensure another victory for the Rangers, who will next play Saturday night in Raleigh when they face the Hurricanes in the front end of a weekend home-and-home series.
Carl Hagelin and Calgary's Curtis Glencross exhanged goals in the final minutes, as the Rangers closed out their three game trek through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary having outscored the opposition 12-3.
"Sometimes it takes a road trip like this to kind of shake things out a little bit," offered Kreider. "We've been talking about gaining traction a lot. It's a mindset, and a lot can be attributed to our leadership group as we find our way here."