Martin St. Louis scored twice during regulation and once in the shootout to spark the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, the start of a three-game home stand which continues Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames.
The Rangers have won two straight and earned points in eight consecutive games now (6-0-2). They trail the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders--who were shut out by Vancouver 4-0 Sunday--by two points and have three games in hand.
"We are finding a way to get points and get wins in different fashions," stated team captain Ryan McDonagh. "That's the biggest thing at this stage of the season. Everyone is fighting. It's turning into playoff mode here, trying to find a way to get into the playoffs. This last stretch here we've done a pretty good job of that."
Added head coach Alain Vigneault, "We're two points behind the top spot so we must be doing something right."
Along with St. Louis--who now has four goals over his last four games--Derek Stepan also had a two-point night Sunday, assisting on both of Marty's goals, and he now has nine points in his last five games (2-7-9). Rick Nash scored the decisive goal in the third round of the shootout, in which New York scored twice.
After watching rookie Mackenzie Skapski backstop a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in his NHL debut Friday night, Cam Talbot was back between the pipes for the ninth time in the past ten games Sunday. He was staked to a 3-0 lead, but saw it slip away when David Savard's long slap shot somehow eluded him with 4:19 to play in regulation, tying the score 3-3. Talbot did come through in overtime, stopping all three shots he faced including a big-time save on Artem Anisimov's spin-o-rama shorthanded attempt; and then in the shootout he stopped two of the three shots he faced, including a poke check on Cam Atkinson in the third round which sealed the victory.
"My thinking is (after allowing tying goal) just try and stop the next one and give us a chance to battle back," explained Talbot. "For the guys to battle back like that, it's huge. It's a big win."
When St. Louis scored his second goal of the night 1:24 into the second period the Rangers had a 3-0 lead and were outshooting the Blue Jackets 19-8, already having recorded five shots less than 90 seconds into the middle stanza. However their dominance slowly ebbed and Columbus worked its way back into the game, scoring twice before the period was over to cut the Rangers lead to 3-2 by time the second intermission arrived.
In the tight-checking third period the Rangers were outshot 8-1, and Savard tied the score late, wiping out all of the Rangers three-goal advantage.
"Our third period has got to be a lot better," stated Nash. "The last ten-game stretch we've given away leads and we have to hunker down on that."
Kevin Hayes got the Blueshirts off to a good start, scoring his 11th goal of the season just 5:57 into the first period. An excellent keep along the offensive blue line by Carl Hagelin started the scoring play, with Hagelin then chipping a pass to Hayes, who skated between the circles before snapping a shot over Curtis McElhinney's glove.
Less than three minutes later St. Louis doubled the Rangers advantage, one-timing a pass from Stepan off McElhinney and into the cage at 8:06. St. Louis scooted up right wing, dropped a pass to Stepan and then drifted to the left of the Blue Jackets net as Stepan swooped behind the net. Stepan then dished in front where St. Louis made no mistake in scoring his first of the night.
Marty's second goal came off another pretty passing sequence in which Stepan fed McDonagh on left wing, and the Blueshirts captain quickly zipped a cross-ice pass to a wide-open St. Louis who deposited his 18th goal into the back of the net.
"Obviously up three goals, it's not the way (going to a shootout) you are trying to get two points," offered St. Louis. "We should have pulled away and closed it out; but at the end of the day you find a way."
No sooner had the Rangers finished celebrating their 3-0 lead, then the Blue Jackets answered back 53 seconds later. Marko Dano swept a Nick Foligno pass between Talbot's pads at 2:17 to cut into the Blueshirts advantage.
It looked as though the Rangers would carry a 3-1 lead into the third period, but Anisimov scored off a terrific solo effort with 1:49 to play in the second to bring Columbus within one. After receiving a pass from Dano on left wing, Anisimov drove hard to the net. His initial shot was stopped by Talbot, but in heavy traffic Anisimov was able to get to the rebound and squeeze the puck between Talbot's pad and the far post for his fourth goal of an injury-ravaged season.
That score held up with few chances either way in the third period, until Savard's long shot from the blue line hit off Talbot and bounced into the net late in the period. To the Rangers credit they bounced back and fired six shots on McElhinney during the five-minute overtime before eventually winning for the third time in eight shootouts this season.
"Ultimately we know what it takes for us to win, and we know we have things we need to improve on," stated McDonagh. "But we found a way; and it was great to see Cam step up their at the end."