NEW YORK -- After allowing the opposing team to score first in their sixth straight game, the New York Rangers needed a big lift in the eighth of their nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden.
Keyed by a big first-period hit and a dominant performance in the second, New York scored four unanswered goals to defeat the Minnesota Wild, 4-1, Sunday night.
The win improved New York's record to 2-4-2 on their marathon homestand and was primarily the result of a second period that was the team's best in a while.
"In the second period, that was probably our best four-lines, six-D period in a long time," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "I rolled four lines. Each line was playing very smart and simple. They were doing the right things with the puck."
Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot scored for the Rangers, who got 24 saves from Cam Talbot.
The Rangers were outchanced through much of the opening period. But their pace changed markedly following Matt Cooke's hit on Zuccarello behind the Rangers' net with the score tied 1-1. The fierce check led to a skirmish that resulted in John Moore being whistled for roughing and Kyle Brodziak called for unsportsmanlike conduct with 1:12 remaining in the first.
"I know the group in here. Everyone is going to have each other's back," Zuccarello said. "You feel safe out there when you have teammates who stick up for you. That felt good."
New York took over from that point on, outshooting Minnesota 24-14 the rest of the way.
"That might have actually helped us get going," Hagelin said. "Before that, we were a little bit soft, maybe. After that we all started skating and hitting."
After a tight-checking first 11 minutes of the second period in which the teams combined for seven shots, Hagelin gave New York (17-18-2) the lead with 8:34 left in the second. Derek Dorsett's pass to Ryan McDonagh was broken up by Keith Ballard, but the Wild defenseman put the puck right on Hagelin's stick in the slot. Hagelin beat Backstrom glove side to give New York a 2-1 lead and the Swedish wing his third goal in four games and eighth of the season.
The Rangers bottled up the Minnesota attack from that point on, outshooting the Wild 12-2 for the remainder of the second period. Minnesota was also hamstrung by the loss of defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who left the game with 7:09 remaining in the second, but returned for the start of the third.
It all culminated in Zuccarello's goal, the end result of solid work by Derick Brassard.
"I didn't do much there. A great job by him," Zuccarello said of Brassard on the play.
Streaking down the right side on his off wing, Brassard curled behind the Wild net before delivering a perfect pass to Zuccarello. Standing all alone in the slot, the Norwegian wing made no mistake to give New York a 3-1 lead on his eighth goal with 85 seconds left in the second. It was the perfect ending to a dominant period in which Minnesota was outshot 17-5.
"The D-man was playing me on the outside. It's a hard play for them," Brassard said. "Zuc was coming from the bench and you have to kind of turn around. All credit to him, he found an open spot there. It was not a long pass, it was really short. We connected there."
The Wild's attack continued to be stifled after 40 minutes; the Rangers held Minnesota to two shots in the opening seven minutes of the third. The Wild scored two or fewer goals for the 13th time in 15 games.
"I think once they scored that first one, and then especially when they got that second one, I think we became a little demoralized and kind of changed the way we were playing the game," Wild wing Zach Parise said. "That was for the most part I thought the big difference. Once they got that second goal, we became a little flustered and just were never able to regain any momentum."
Kreider put the game away 12:46 into the third. Storming down the left wing, the Rangers forward fanned on his wrist shot, but the puck slowly slid between Backstrom's legs to give New York a 4-1 lead on Kreider's ninth of the season. At that point, it was clear that the Rangers were the beneficiaries of some fortunate bounces on this night.
"I think we got a pretty nice bounce on Kreider's goal. I don't know if you can call that a bounce," Brassard said. "We're just trying to get ourselves going. After that we pushed the pace and everything was good for us."
Minnesota enjoyed a strong start, opening the scoring 4:08 into the game. After Mikael Granlund won a faceoff in the Rangers' zone, Ryan Suter carried the puck down the left wing before centering the puck to Pominville. Battling with John Moore at the side of the net, Pominville was able to get his stick on the puck for his team-leading 17th of the season. The perfect cross-ice pass gave Suter an assist in six straight games.
With Mikko Koivu off for tripping in the first, the Rangers had two of their best chances of the night, but could not solve Backstrom. After taking a long outlet pass from Michael Del Zotto, Zuccarello sped past Spurgeon before going to his backhand as he crashed the net with 7:26 remaining in the opening period. Backstrom stayed with the speedy wing and made the save. Brassard fired a wrist shot from the left wing 29 seconds later that hit the far post.
When Ballard was called for tripping 2:43 later, the Rangers made sure to bury their chance. McDonagh took a Brassard pass at the top of the right circle and perfectly fed Pouliot on the doorstep. Pouliot's fifth of the season and third goal in six games tied the score 1-1 with 3:52 remaining in the first.
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