Rick Nash scored twice in the third period, and Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 23 shots, as the Rangers---playing without the injured Brad Richards---won their third straight game, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The victory---which lifted the Blueshirts past Philly and into eighth place in the Eastern Conference---did come with a price as defenseman Marc Staal was forced from the game early in the third period after being struck in the face by a deflected puck.
Ryan Callahan also scored a pair of goals for the Rangers, who closed out their season-high four-game homestand with a third consecutive victory after dropping the opener to Winnipeg a week ago.
Nash scored the tie-breaking goal 2:50 into the third period, flying up right wing and blistering a shot under the right arm of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Lundqvist had made a sharp save at the other end of the ice and Dan Girardi had scooped up the puck and made a quick outlet pass to Nash off the dasher boards, sending Nash on his way up ice for the clutch goal.
There wasn't much time for the Rangers to bask in the glow of Nash's go-ahead goal, though. First Derek Stepan hobbled off the ice after blocking a shot with his foot, and then at 5:45 Staal crumpled to the ice after a Kimmo Timonen slap shot deflected off the stick of Jakub Voracek with the puck hitting the visor-less Staal in the right eye. A bleeding Staal was quickly attended to and escorted to the Blueshirts dressing room by the team's medical trainer Jim Ramsay.
Unlike Stepan---who returned after a few minutes of sitting on the bench---Staal did not return to the game. In fact Stepan not only came back to play, he earned the primary assist on Nash's second goal of the third period---a simply gorgeous power move to the net complete with an elite finish that left Bryzgalov way out of position and defenseless as Nash slid the puck into the back of the cage at 11:42.
The goal was the seventh on the season for Nash, who has scored four times in three games since returning from injury. It also marked his first multiple-goal game as a Blueshirt. The assist on the score was Stepan's second of the night.
The two teams entered the third period tied 2-2, with all four goals being scored in the opening period---even though combined the Rangers and Flyers managed only 14 shots on goal through the first 20 minutes of play. It took the Rangers just 90 seconds to open the scoring as Callahan one-timed a Stepan pass into the cage with Timonen in the box following an early holding a penalty.
However the Flyers answered back twice on power plays of their own later in the first period to put the Rangers in a 2-1 hole. Wayne Simmonds redirected a centering feed from Claude Giroux past Lundqvist at 7:18 for his tenth goal of the season with Stu Bickel in the penalty box; and then a wide-open Voracek converted his own power play rebound at 17:07---with Simmonds earning the primary assist---as Callahan was serving a hooking minor.
Callahan made up for his penalty by pulling the Rangers even with 40.6 seconds remaining in the first period. After accepting a Ryan McDonagh pass on left wing, a patient Callahan let a diving Flyers defenseman slide past before he cut to the net and beat Bryzgalov with a power move to the net. The goal was his seventh of the season, and fourth in the past six games. And it tied the score 2-2.
The Rangers controlled much of the early action in the scoreless second period, but it was Lundqvist who ended up having to make the more difficult saves later on. Philadelphia recorded its first shot of the second period at the 9:15 mark, and it required a big-time kick save by Lundqvist on a Scott Hartnell slap shot off a break-in to make sure it didn't end up in the back of the Rangers net. Minutes later a sprawling Lundqvist poked the puck away from a wide open Brayden Schenn on the doorstep, and then stoned Simmonds' one-timer from eight-feet out.
With Richards sidelined, 19 year-old rookie J.T. Miller moved up to center a line with Callahan and Marian Gaborik, and Brian Boyle played important physical minutes between Darroll Powe and Taylor Pyatt. Micheal Haley was recalled from Connecticut and took Richards' spot in the lineup, playing on the fourth line with Jeff Halpern and Stu Bickel.
The major minutes were shouldered, as expected, by Stepan's line with Nash and Carl Hagelin---the latter of whom was a blazing blur on the ice all night long, a difference maker even while not scoring, while Nash was the major difference-maker in the third period.
What do yo uthink of Rick Nash's clutch play of late? And how frightened were you when Marc Staal was struck by that shot? Share all of your thoughts below.