NEW YORK -- There probably weren't many who didn't think the East-leading New York Rangers
wouldn't come away with two points against the 30th-place Columbus Blue Jackets
on Sunday night.
It's just how the Rangers went about doing so that was the interesting part.
scored 22 seconds into overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory after Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash
-- the biggest name in the NHL trade deadline rumor mill -- tied the score with 1:33 left in regulation.
The tying goal evoked a "We don't want you" chant from the fans at Madison Square Garden, who watched their Rangers win for the seventh time in nine games and open a nine-point lead in the conference on the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils.
Nash was the big story before the game, fielding questions from about a dozen reporters about his future. He said "no comment" when asked if the Rangers were one of the teams for which he'd waive his no-trade clause. His blast from the right circle with goaltender Steve Mason
on the bench for an extra attacker nearly made him the big story after the game.
Instead, it was Stepan scoring his 12th goal of the season that stole the spotlight.
Stepan finished a beautiful passing play between Michael Del Zotto
and Marian Gaborik
by slamming the puck into a wide-open net to beat a game Jackets team.
"They've been playing some pretty good hockey," Stepan said of the Jackets, who are 4-3-1 in their last eight games. "We knew coming in that they'd be playing hard. We wanted to come out with a good start, and I thought we did."
The finish nearly cost the Rangers a point, as Nash's snap shot off a faceoff win beat goaltender Hernik Lundqvist made things interesting.
"I've faced him a lot over the years," said Lundqvist, who made 21 saves for his fourth straight win. "He's a good player, no question. I know there's been some speculation. Whatever happens, happens. He's a talented guy -- strong, good shooter. It was a knuckle puck. It just went straight down. I'd rather see him get a clean rocket there and I'd make the save."
The Rangers dominated the territorial play in the first period against the Jackets, who were playing their second game in as many days. It looked like it wouldn't translate into a goal, as Mason, who made 32 saves, was sharp throughout.
But Brad Richards
broke through for his 18th goal of the year, finishing a give-and-go with Carl Hagelin
to make it 1-0 with 2:11 left in the period. Richards fed Hagelin as they crossed the blue line on a 3-on-2, and Hagelin passed it back to the middle for a one-timer by Richards.
The Blue Jackets had no interest in rolling over, however.
After Gaborik took a high-sticking penalty, Derick Brassard
tied the score 5 seconds later with a rocket from the blue line off a clean face-off win by Antoine Vermette
. Lundqvist was unable to track the puck through a slew of bodies, leading a to a tie game at 5:26 of the second period.
A golden opportunity for the Rangers went to waste when they weren't able to convert on a 5-on -3 that lasted 1:33, but Artem Anisimov
put the Rangers ahead less than two minutes after both teams were at even strength.
A long shot by defenseman Dan Girardi
went over the head of Mason, who stayed on his knees outside the crease as the puck crashed into the glass. The rebound kicked out to the side of the net, where Anisimov buried his 11th of the season as Mason sprawled back to the crease.
"I think we had just spent close to two minutes in our zone on the 5-on-3 kill, so I think he was a bit winded," interim coach Todd Richards said of Mason on the goal.
Overall, Richards was pleased with his team's showing in the second half of a back-to-back.
"I really like the way we battled," he said. "I thought we fought and we clogged for everything, and we get the game to overtime. But I still think at times, we make it more difficult on ourselves by turning pucks over."
If the second period was a tenth of a second longer, things may have been even more difficult for the Blue Jackets.
With time winding down, Del Zotto appeared to score a goal as the period expired to make it 3-1. Replays on the television networks of the Rangers and Jackets showed there was time remaining with the puck completely across the line, but it was correctly ruled no-goal because on the official clock in the video review room in the arena, the puck was on the goal line with no time remaining.
"It was the correct call," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Something happens with the clocks, I have no idea. But they made the right call."
The Rangers faced their share of adversity Sunday night -- an apparent goal properly waved off, a tying goal by Columbus with the game seemingly in hand -- but they forged ahead and got the two points.
"We have to regroup, just get back to work," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan
said of the no-goal ruling. "We were confident (going into overtime). We felt good about the game we were playing. Our focus then turned to just getting that next point."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo