After dropping their first two games coming out of the All-Star break, the New York Rangers responded tonight with a huge 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. During the opening minutes of this game, it appeared as if the Rangers had some carryover effects from the last game, and they coughed up the puck quite a bit. Despite some early defensive issues though, they responded fairly well, and were rewarded with a pair of goals that came four minutes apart. The first goal came at the 6:30 mark, as Rick Nash picked off a stretch pass from Andrej Sekera, and lugged it into the zone down the left boards.
With J.T. Miller still partially offsides, Nash made a quick stutter move at the blue line, which created some extra space as he entered into the offensive zone. Just as Justin Faulk was stepping up to make a play, Nash ripped a quick wrist shot through a screen, and beat Cam Ward just under the arm for the 1-0 lead. This isn't the first time Nash has scored from that spot either, and he came away with his 29th goal of the season to tie him for first in the NHL scoring race.
Four minutes after Nash got the scoring started, Dominic Moore scored a beautiful coast-to-coast goal while shorthanded, and gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead. After Lundqvist put the puck in the corner, Ryan McDonagh hit Moore with a quick outlet pass, and sent him in one-on-one with Justin Faulk. With Faulk still hustling back to keep up, Moore slipped the puck between his stick, and cut to the middle on a breakaway. Moore capped off the beautiful move with an even better goal, and tapped the puck between Ward's legs.
Just as the Rangers were starting to find their legs, things took a turn for the worst again during the second period. The Hurricanes came out of the intermission determined for a better period, and did just that by pinning the Rangers in their zone for the opening minutes. About five minutes into the second period, Henrik Lundqvist scared fans around the world when he caught a puck up high, and was flailing around the ice in a ton of pain. Lundqvist stayed down for several minutes, and the replay confirmed Lundqvist was struck by the puck just under the plastic neck guard.
After getting checked out by the team doctor, Lundqvist somehow elected to stay in the game, and received a booming ovation from MSG as he got back to his feet. You figured the Rangers would have stepped up for their goaltender, especially after seeing him hit in the neck with a puck, and getting up minutes later to remain in the game. Except, it was exactly the opposite, as the Rangers continued with their defensive miscues, and it eventually cost them at the 5:38 mark.
The Rangers failed to clear their zone after a strong forecheck from Carolina, and Ryan Murphy found Brad Malone cutting in on the backdoor. Lundqvist was unable to pick up the far-side threat, which gave Malone the entire net to pick his corner, and buried it to cut the lead to 2-1. After a horrible start to the period, Alain Vigneault elected to give his lines a complete makeover, and it appeared to give the Rangers a bit of a spark.
In the closing minutes of the period, the Rangers put together several threatening shifts, and could have restored their two goal lead if not for Cam Ward. John Moore, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, and Kevin Klein all had their fair share of opportunities, but Ward was up to the task, and kept the score 2-1 heading into the second intermission.
After a strong finish to the second period, the Rangers carried over that momentum to the third period, and essentially handed it to the Hurricanes. A handful of chances went unanswered early on, but at the 10:19 mark, the Rangers finally broke through to restore a two goal lead. Kevin Hayes set up Chris Kreider with a mesmerizing cross-ice feed, and Kreider tapped the puck into the yawning net.
Since Alain Vigneault united Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello, they were one of the most dominating lines during the second half of this game. Just 21 seconds after Kreider gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead, Dan Boyle bombed one home from the point, and extended the Rangers lead to 4-1. The shot appeared to take a deflection off of one of the defenders in front, and popped up over Ward's shoulder before he was able track the puck.
After a horrible start to this game from Dan Boyle, he responded nicely in the third period, and notched his fifth goal of the season. The Rangers continued to amp up the pressure late in the third period, but Cam Ward came up huge, and turned away the final push from the Rangers. With tonight's win, the Rangers now move even with the Washington Capitals for third place in the Metropolitan Division, alone with two games in hand.
The Rangers will be back in action Monday night against the Florida Panthers, as they look to build on tonight's success in the second and third periods.