Derek Stepan scored twice, including the game-winner 5:46 into the third period, and Ryan Callahan notched four points as the Rangers got back on track following a pair of shutout defeats with a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The win was the Rangers first in three tries against Winnipeg this season and kept them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Their 37 points are just two fewer than the seventh-place Devils, who were beaten by the Islanders 3-1 on Monday night.
After a pair of near-misses just moments before---with Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec making clutch saves on a Rick Nash partial break and a tricky Ryan McDonagh wraparound---the Rangers finally snapped a 2-2 tie early in the third period on Stepan's second goal of the game, and 12th of the season. Stationed to Pavelec's right, Stepan buried a rebound off the Winnipeg netminder's blocker after a left-point shot by Anton Stralman, who was playing in his 300th NHL game.
Henrik Lundqvist was sharp in preserving the lead as the Jets pressed to try and tie the contest. Lundqvist, who did not start in Saturday's 3-0 loss to the Canadiens up in Montreal, finished with 26 saves and he earned his 267th career victory, tying him with Eddie Giacomin for second place on the Rangers all-time list. Mike Richter is tops with 301 career wins.
Nash provided the home team a two-goal cushion when he zipped his team-leading 13th goal past Pavelec from the left circle with 6:53 remaining to play.
After not scoring a single goal in the previous two games, the Rangers needed only 19 seconds before opening the scoring on Monday night. On the game's first shift, Nash directed a long pass over to right wing where Callahan collected the puck in full flight. The Rangers captain then flipped a pass to Stepan who had snuck in behind the Jets defense, and Stepan beat Pavelec cleanly for his first goal of the night.
Stepan's goal marked only the 13th time this season that the Rangers scored first. And it marked their first goal in 128 minutes and six seconds since Chris Kreider's third period goal in Philadelphia last Tuesday.
But the Garden celebration was short-lived because the Jets pulled even less than a minute later. Ex-Ranger Nik Antropov found himself all alone one-on-one against Lundqvist after receiving a Kyle Wellwood pass into the low slot. Antropov waited for Lundqvist to make the first move, and then wristed his fifth goal of the season into the back of the net, tying the game just 1:15 into the first period.
Things got decidedly worse for the Rangers before they got better. As the Jets rang up an early 6-1 lead in shots, they also grabbed their first lead of the game at the 12:54 mark of the opening period. Another ex-Ranger, Olli Jokinen, beat Brian Boyle cleanly on a face-off in the home team's end of the ice and defenseman Zach Bogosian hammered his third goal of the season past Lundqvist to put the Jets on top 2-1.
The tide turned early in the second period thanks to the Rangers penalty kill. With Mats Zuccarello already in the penalty box for a high-sticking minor, Dan Girardi was whistled for a tripping penalty at 2:23, giving the Jets a two-man advantage for 39 seconds. The Rangers---with Callahan, Stepan, and McDonagh on ice along with Lundqvist---did not allow a single shot on goal during Winnipeg's 5-on-3; and when McDonagh flipped a high clear out to center ice with Zuccarello coming out of the penalty box, the Rangers had themselves a 2-on-1 rush the other way.
Zuccarello touched the puck to Stepan and then drove to the net. Callahan did the rest, dancing around defenseman Tobias Enstrom before deking Pavelec to the ice and slipping a backhand shot into the net for a shorthanded goal, his tenth overall tally this season, at 3:11. Zuccarello, who would take two more minors before the period was done, was awarded an assist on the play, his first point since rejoining the Rangers late last week.
The Rangers dominated long stretches of the second period with Zuccarello, Boyle, Marian Gaborik, and Steve Eminger among those with great scoring chances denied by Pavelec. At one point the Rangers were outshooting Winnipeg 11-1 in the second period.
The Jets stymied some of the Rangers momentum by skating on four power plays in the middle twenty minutes. But the Rangers killed off each one, as the score remained 2-2 into the second intermission. Lundqvist made his best save of the night--a lightning-quick left-pad save to rob Bryan Little on the doorstep during a Winnipeg power play after a blind between-the-legs pass from Andrew Ladd at 16:30.
The home team finished a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, a big reason for Monday's clutch victory.