Rangers make it seven in a row with win over Blues

Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello celebrate Brassard's early goal in another Rangers win.  AP Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello celebrate Brassard’s early goal in another Rangers win.
AP Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

They keep winning games. Make it seven in a row for the Rangers who defeated the Blues 6-3 at MSG last night. Even a step up in competition couldn’t cool them off.

This is one I didn’t see. My Dad, brother and friend attended. They got to see six goals on 22 shots including the first three on only five chasing the previously red hot St. Louis starter Jake Allen. He entered with a shutout streak of 165:59. But didn’t last a whole period. Mats Zuccarello was the catalyst setting up Derick Brassard for the game’s first goal and scoring his eighth goal just 2:18 later by abusing Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

”He’s playing at such a high level right now. It starts with his compete level,” teammate Derek Stepan praised of the pint sized Norwegian with the gigantic heart. ”He competes so hard.”

Since Alain Vigneault reunited the top line, they’ve been hot. Nash just came back and scored in the win over Carolina. He helped set up the first two goals and set a perfect screen on captain Ryan McDonagh’s big power play goal in the third which gave them some much needed breathing room against quality opponent. Zuccarello earned the game’s first star recording a goal and two assists. Brassard had a goal and helper allowing the trio to combine for seven points.

Kevin Hayes chased Allen when he beat him on a breakaway with 5:22 remaining in the first. Sent in on a perfect feed from Viktor Stalberg, the improving second-year forward went forehand deke to send Allen to the bench in favor of veteran backup Brian Elliott. By the time McDonagh scored, he was equally frustrated.

During this stretch, the Blueshirts haven’t been perfect by any stretch. In home victories over the Caps and Blues, they’ve been opportunistic. Able to victimize mistake prone yet talented opponents, they’re making the most of their chances. At times, they’ve been on their heels defensively. Washington was all over them last week for half the game. St. Louis was similar attacking for long stretches. They out-shot the Rangers 16-5 in the first but still trailed on the scoreboard.

”The best period we played all year on the road was the first period and we were down 3-0,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. ”I thought for sure with the way we were playing, we were really dominating the offensive zone. I thought we were going to win for sure.”

The difference is the goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist continues to perform at a high level. In by far his best start, he is making key saves at critical moments. Even when he allows a rare clunker like the rebound to Dmitrij Jaskin that got the Blues within 3-1 before the end of the first, he always bounces back. The three goals allowed were the first time he’s given up over two since Oct. 13 against Winnipeg. He finished with 31 saves to win his fifth straight decision. In fact, he hasn’t lost in regulation since Oct. 15 at Montreal.

As they’ve proven throughout the streak, the Rangers bend but don’t break. When they are stuck in their end, it’s usually because they can’t clear the zone. A bad trend that needs fixing. They also haven’t always managed the puck in the neutral zone. A clear example was Stalberg giving away the puck to the Blues most dangerous scorer Vladimir Tarasenko resulting in a highlight reel goal. Tarasenko took the early Christmas gift and blew into the Ranger zone whistling a lethal wrist shot past Lundqvist for an unassisted goal that cut it to 3-2 at 5:24 of the second.

”He’s one of the best players in the game,” Lundqvist admitted. ”He’s up there with (Ovechkin), I think, in the way he shoots the puck. I thought I was in good position and (his shot is) just so fast and accurate. Give him credit.

”It’s definitely a test for a goalie.”

Undeterred, the Rangers responded less than five minutes later thanks to J.T. Miller connecting off a Stepan feed from Dan Girardi. On the play, Stepan walked out and fed Miller for a one-timer that took a favorable bounce off a Blues skate past a helpless Elliott. That restored a two-goal lead for the time being. St. Louis wasn’t done. With Brassard off for a hook, Scott Gomez started a nice passing play with Robby Fabri finding a wide open Troy Brouwer in front for a power play goal that cut it to 4-3.

However, a Brouwer slash handed the Rangers their first power play less than two minutes into the third. On it, Zuccarello and Stepan combined to set up a McDonagh one-time blast from the point for his second at 2:44. With Nash parking his big frame in front of Elliott, he never saw the shot and then slammed his goal stick against the cage. A pleased McDonagh pumped his fist.

One of the best lock down teams in the game, the Rangers held down the forte improving to 12-2-2. Off a good fore check from Chris Kreider and Miller, Girardi iced it with an empty netter.

”A good test for us to raise our level,” Marc Staal said. ”I thought (it was) one of the hardest competition games (we’ve) had. They play a strong game. They play smart. I think it was our best effort, emotional type of win. It (was) a good test for us and (I’m) glad we responded the way we did.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (goal-4th of season, assist, 4 hits, +2 in 20 shifts-13:51)

2nd Star-Rick Nash, NYR (2 assists plus a big time screen on McDonagh’s PPG)

1st Star-Mats Zuccarello, NYR (8th of season, 2 assists-Most Valuable Forward)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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