The New York Rangers (15-10-4) have completed the Vancouver–Edmonton–Calgary road trip twenty times over the years. But this year’s tour of Western Canada was one for the books. For the first time, the Rangers swept the three Canadian teams and, in doing so, extended their own winning streak to a season-high four games.
Wednesday night’s game against the Calgary Flames (17-14-2), which resulted in a 5-2 Rangers victory, saw the continuation of several good streaks for New York as well as the end of a couple individual scoring droughts.
Rick Nash, who earned First Star of the Game accolades, paced the Rangers with two goals. He opened the scoring with a breakaway at 11:22 in the first period and added a shorthanded goal in the second to extend the Rangers’ lead to 3-0. Nash has now registered points in 11 straight games, a career-best point streak. His second goal, which would ultimately become the game-winner, was his 20th of the season; he now has 11 consecutive 20-goal seasons to add to his list of accomplishments as well.
“We need [Nash] to play the way he is,” said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. “We’re no different from any other team in the league. You need your top players to be your top performers, and that’s what Rick’s doing for us right now.”
“He’s playing so well on both sides of the puck,” added Chris Kreider. “He’s not cheating, and that’s what makes his scoring so impressive.”
Kreider, whose own offensive production had been lacking as of late, ended his 13-game scoring drought with a power play goal at the end of the first period to put the Rangers up 2-0. Kreider contributed a strong game all around, keeping the offense moving and adding a couple key defensive plays.
The Rangers’ defense and goaltending was one of the most crucial parts of this win. New York registered a season-high 26 blocked shots, compared to Calgary’s 8, and Henrik Lundqvist made 29 saves in net to earn his fourth consecutive win. Players across the board did what they could to help keep the puck out of the net as well. Thirteen different Rangers were credited with at least one blocked shot, and eight different skaters had at least two. The most memorable save of the game came midway through the third period, as Calgary began to amp up the offensive pressure. Kevin Klein was able to deflect the puck out of the crease as it all but crossed the goal line; had he not gotten a stick on the puck, that would certainly have been a second goal for the Flames. The score would have become 4-2, and a manageable two-goal deficit could have made this an entirely different game.
But over the course of this three-game road trip, the Rangers gave up only three goals.
“Hank played well all three games, and it’s one of those things where it’s not just the defensemen, it’s not just Hank, it’s a five-man unit,” said Klein about the team’s defensive success.
Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin added the final two goals for the Rangers in the second and third periods, respectively. Stepan broke an 8-game scoring drought with a serendipitous wraparound goal to build the lead to 4-0, and Hagelin put in his second empty-netter in as many games to make it to 5-1 with three minutes remaining. Though Calgary put in a late power play goal to close the gap to 5-2, there was no time left to build any sort of comeback.
Before this win, the Rangers held the second wild card spot in the league standings. Now, however, they have regained a divisional playoff position and overtaken the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division standings.
New York will return to action on Saturday in the first game of a home-and-home set with the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Seems like each year the playoff push starts earlier, and we’re in one now, before Christmas. So it’s important [to get] two points each night,” said Stepan. “Let’s get back home now and look to our next two points.”