Thursday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Rangers won a second straight wild game in front of their dads on their current Fathers Trip, skating to a 6-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. The Rangers are now 5-1-1 in their last seven overall and sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 69 points.
Kevin Hayes, who before the game was praised by head coach Alain Vigneault to the media, scored a highlight-reel goal and picked up a pair of assists for his first career three-point game Thursday, and Mats Zuccarello scored another clutch goal while extending his point-scoring streak to a career-high seven games.
"It was nice to score and get a couple of assists to help the team win, it's what you go for every night," said Hayes, who was a +4 Thursday. "It's awesome having the dads in town. He's probably pretty happy up there. I'm sure he's calling back to my mom!"
It was Carl Hagelin who scored the game's biggest goal, burying a shot from in front with 7:58 remaining in regulation to snap a 3-3 tie. Hagelin's goal came after Colorado had erased a 3-1 third-period deficit on goals from Jarome Iginla and Jan Hejda, the second of which came just 78 seconds before Hagelin restored New York's lead by scoring on the team's first shot of the third period.
"They were dominating us there for about ten minutes, so the goal was big, gave us some momentum," explained Hagelin. "We weren't aggressive and made it easy for them to break out and get chances; but we regrouped and found a way."
Rick Nash, who also had an assist earlier in the game, put the win on ice by scoring his league-leading 34th goal with four minutes 18 seconds to play in regulation. Falling to the ice, Nash swept the puck into the net, and the Rangers were again up by two.
Ryan McDonagh scored an empty net power play goal with 1:01 left to play to put the finishing touches on the Rangers victory.
Another key moment of this game took place in the second period after the Avalanche had cut the Rangers lead to 2-1. J.T. Miller was whistled for a hooking penalty at 13:22 and eight seconds later Dan Girardi was penalized for tripping, leaving the Rangers two men down for one minute 52 seconds. Instead of letting the Avalanche cash in, the Rangers provided stout aggressive defense in front of Talbot, allowing only two shots while two men down, and killed off both penalties.
Then just 32 seconds later Zuccarello blistered a left-wing slap shot off the rush past Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov to restore New York's two-goal lead and silence the Pepsi Center crowd, marking the culmination of a major turn of events in the Rangers favor.
"That was the biggest part of the game right there," said Hayes.
During the first half of the penalty kill Dominic Moore, Hagelin, and Ryan McDonagh did the work in front of Talbot, and then that threesome was replaced successfully by Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein who were equally as effective.
"It's a 2-1 game there and unfortunately we have two guys there in the box and we just want to make sure we don't get scored on," explained Hagelin. "Cam made some big saves; and I think we did a good job with our sticks and being in lanes and blocking shots. Obviously that's big momentum there, and then Nasher finds Zucc and gets us to 3-1 going to the second intermission."
Following a line change, Nash sprung Zuccarello in stride over the blue line leading to the Norwegian winger's 11th goal of the season and third in the past two games. It was Zuccarello--assisted by Nash--who also scored the clutch game-winner late in the third period of Tuesday's 5-4 victory in Toronto.
As they did on Tuesday the Rangers had a strong start to Thursday night's game, outshooting their hosts 13-5 in the first period and jumping out to a 1-0 lead when Dan Boyle--who also opened the scoring against the Maple Leafs--broke in alone on Varlamov and beat him with a slick deke and finish with 3:30 to play in the opening period.
It was Hayes whose pass found Boyle behind the Avs defense, and then it was the Rangers rookie again making a big play early in the second period to give New York a 2-0 lead. Collecting the puck in his own end of the ice Hayes weaved his way the length of the ice, eventually bursting in from right wing after faking a drop pass, and depositing the puck behind Varlamov with a simply stunning power move to the net.
The goal was Hayes' ninth of the season, and his second in as many games. He has points in each of his last four games (2-3-5) and in five of his last six (3-3-6).
The Avalanche cut the Rangers lead in half after a dominating shift in the offensive zone in which the visitors failed to clear the puck on at least three open opportunities. Colorado made the Rangers pay when a shot towards the net deflected off Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog and into the net at 12:46 of the second period, cutting New York's lead to 2-1.
Then came the big 5-on-3 kill and Zuccarello's goal, which carried the Rangers to a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes of play. However the Avalanche came out strong in the third period with sustained pressure repeatedly in New York's end of the ice. Talbot turned in some of his best work of the night early in the third; but Iginla buried a rebound at 6:43--following a blatant Rangers turnover in the defensive zone--cutting the Rangers lead to 3-2.
Iginla's goal made him even with Talbot in the game since the Rangers goalie stood tall and made a sharp pad save on a clear Iginla breakaway 3:35 into the second period.
Hejda then tied it by sneaking a shot through Talbot's pads at 10:44, before Hagelin rescued New York with his clutch goal less than two minutes later.
Immediately after the game the Rangers chartered to Phoenix where they will next face the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.