Well, that certainly was one heck of a way to earn two points. Rick Nash picked up the game winning goal tonight with a little under two minutes left in regulation, and the Rangers started out the home stand on a positive note. Tonight's win makes it two straight for the Blueshirts, and they've quietly gone 7-2-1 over their last ten games. They're also right back in the mix for the playoff race, and passed the Detroit Red Wings for the final wildcard spot tonight as well.
The Rangers didn't necessarily have the greatest of starts tonight, and it wound up hurting them pretty early in this game. It only took the Dallas Stars four minutes to take advantage of a blown defensive zone coverage, and they were able to snag the first goal of the game. It would up being Cody Eakin who chipped in the loose puck at the top of Henrik Lundqvist's crease, which he just barely got apiece of, and it slipped past the goal line.
Anton Stralman is the main reason the Stars even get an opportunity to convert because he makes a questionable decision to challenge Ryan Garbutt below the goal line. Marc Staal wound up getting tripped while battling with Garbutt, so Stralman decided to wander over in an attempt to help, but it wound up hurting more than actually helping. With Stralman heading to the corner, both Antoine Roussel and Eakin were wide open in front, and Lundqvist really didn't have much of a chance.
However, something that the Rangers have been doing really well as of late is continuing to truck away even if they give up a goal. They did it once again tonight, and were able to drawn even about seven minutes later coming from Ryan Callahan. Benoit Pouliot made a very underrated played just prior to the goal, and waited until Brad Richards was back onsides before he touched the puck. As a result, he was able to hit Richards in-stride and it caught the Stars defenders off guard.
Richards had a few whacks at the puck, and it eventually found it's way over to Ryan Callahan, who chipped the puck past Kari Lehtonen on a beautiful diving effort in front. Those are the type of goals the Rangers have been looking for Callahan to contribute with since his return, and tonight was just another confirmation as to why he is the captain of this team.
The second period was very similar to the first in terms of slow starts, and the Rangers found themselves in yet another early hole. Ryan Garbutt was able to redirect a beautiful saucer pass from Antoine Roussel, and it gave the Stars their second lead of the game. Marc Staal made a very questionable pinch at the blue line in order to make a play on the puck, and it wound up working against him. Anton Stralman was the last man back, and did basically all he could to take away the passing lane, but he wasn't able to accomplish his task.
A few minutes after the go-ahead goal, the Rangers caught a break with Shawn Horcoff being whistled down for holding Ryan McDonagh's stick in the offensive zone. That set up a perfect opportunity for the Rangers red-hot power play to take the ice, and they didn't disappoint one bit. It's worth pointing out how well Scott Arniel has handled the power play this year. It's like night and day compared to Mike Sullivan's mess that was here for the three years prior.
Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard have also played a large part in the success as well, mainly because of their excellent vision and their ability to make the right pass at the right time. They wound up connecting once again tonight as Zuccarello found Brassard posted up in the high slot, and gave him a picture perfect pass to redirect over the shoulder of Kari Lehtonen.
It was yet another big push back from the Rangers after giving up the early goal, and it's a huge testament to the confidence that they have been playing with as of late. The Rangers had a handful of chances to go up 3-2 late in the second period, and continued to pepper Lehtonen with a barrage of shots to close out the period.
Then, we headed into Rick Nash territory for the third period, and it set up for an amazing finish. Both the Rangers and Stars were trading chances all throughout the third period, but no one was able to breakthrough. That was, until, Rick Nash scored an absolutely gorgeous goal to give the Rangers a late 3-2 lead with just under two minutes remaining in regulation. Chris Kreider made an excellent play to force a shot on net, and Kari Lehtonen wound up misplaying the shot, and allowed for a big rebound at the top of his crease.
With Arron Rome draped all over him, Rick Nash somehow broke free, and was able to swat the puck over the shoulder of Lehtonen as he was falling over. It was only a matter of time before Rick Nash returned to his high level of play, and tonight just shows that he is ready to rock once again. It took him a little bit to regain his condition since returning from his concussion, and he's playing at an extremely high level at the moment.
It was a huge goal for the Rangers, and it was a huge goal for Nash's confidence. He needed one of those goals to break the ice, and swing the momentum back in his favor once again. With a last minute flurry from the Stars, the Rangers were able to hold on to their 3-2 lead, and eventually went on to win the game.
Tomorrow will be yet another off day for the Rangers as they prepare to take on the Philadelphia Flyers this upcoming Sunday at 7:00 PM. To close this all out, I'll just leave you with this beautiful .gif of Nash's game winning goal, and allow you to bask in all of it's awesomeness.