Rick Nash missed his first game of the season Tuesday night, but Kevin Hayes moved up to take his spot alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello and scored the game's only goal as the Rangers won their third straight, beating the Calgary Flames 1-0 at Madison Square Garden.
With the win the Rangers now have 80 points on the season, but they remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Islanders--who beat Arizona Tuesday--with three games in hand. The Blueshirts are now 7-0-2 in their last nine games.
Nash, who did not practice on Monday after scoring the game-deciding goal in the shootout Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, was scratched Tuesday because of neck spasms. The league's second-leading goal scorer with 37 was replaced by rookie Oscar Lindberg, who was called up late in the afternoon from the Hartford Wolf Pack and made his NHL debut against the Flames.
"I didn't even know until I got to the rink and it was Hags who told me Rick wasn't playing," explained Hayes, who is sixth among all rookies in the NHL with 12 goals now. "Those are two good offensive guys I was playing with and I like to play offense, though I'm nothing like Rick Nash; but I was lucky enough to get a goal out there."
Cam Talbot stopped all 21 shots he faced Monday to earn his fourth shutout of the season. Talbot has posted a 7-1-2 record starting ten of the 11 games since Henrik Lundqvist was sidelined by a vascular injury.
"I have to give the guys a lot of credit, it was probably one of the most complete games we've played this year," stated Talbot, who has an 11-5-3 record this season. "It was a great team effort tonight. We didn't give up a whole lot."
The two teams played 43 minutes of scoreless hockey before Hayes buried his goal off a 2-on-1 down-low feed from Brassard, who had drawn Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo towards him before sliding a perfect pass over to right wing for the onrushing Hayes. On the play Brassard picked up his 48th point of the season, establishing a new single-season career high He had notched 47 points with the Blue Jackets back in 2010-11.
Hayes came within inches of scoring again midway through the third when he deked Ramo to the ice, but had his jam shot hit the post.
"Not a lot was going on there for the first two periods, but during the last ten minutes it was pretty exciting," said Hayes. "It was playoff-type hockey. Good defensive teams, good goalies, and both goalies made great saves. We were lucky enough to get two points."
Scoring chances were few and far between for both teams through the first two scoreless periods of play, in which the Rangers held a 19-15 shots advantage. The best scoring opportunity for either team came just 1:46 into the game when Ramo made a diving glove save to rob a wide-open J.T. Miller putback attempt. Later in the first Talbot responded with a pad save on Johnny Gaudreau's partial breakaway, with Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein pressuring from behind.
"It was an unbelievable save," Miller said of Ramo's early first-period stop against him. "I wanted to get more wood to it, but it was bouncing and I just tried to get what I could. You don't ever want to think it's in for real, but I kind of thought it was. That's as good a save as you're going to see."
In the second period Dan Boyle's spin-o-rama backhand shot from right wing nearly fooled Ramo, who still was able to make a right-pad stop; and in the final minute at the other end of the ice Talbot made back to back saves on Josh Jooris as he raced down left wing--his two best of the second period.
Other than that there was not much to excite the crowd through two periods at The Garden, though Miller's first fight in the National Hockey League, 5:39 into the second period, did get the fans on their feet. A few minutes after being crushed into the back boards by Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland, Miller dropped the gloves with Michael Ferlund in the Rangers end of the ice, landing one big right hand, before Ferlund landed on top of him ending the bout.
"I've never played against him, there's no bad blood, it just happened," shrugged Miller after the game.
Lindberg logged 3:27 worth of ice time in the first period and recorded a pair of shots on goal while centering a line with Miller and Hagelin. However he only played slightly more than two minutes in the second period as Dominic Moore moved up and skated in his place on several shifts. The 23 year-old Swede finished the night playing 8 minutes 18 seconds over 16 shifts. He had two shots, three hits, and won two of five face offs.
After the game head coach Alain Vigneault said that Lindberg would return to the Wolf Pack.
"He's a really good centerman and he has a really bright future," Miller said of Lindberg. "I thought he played a really solid game, pretty much mistake free from what I saw. It was good night for him."
After a day off on Wednesday the Rangers are right back at it Thursday when they close a three-game home stand by hosting the Arizona Coyotes.