ST. PAUL -- For much of the third period Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, it looked like the New York Rangers were going to miss a golden opportunity to take advantage of a gift from one of their biggest rivals. But the Rangers persevered and got the go-ahead goal from Ruslan Fedotenko with 6:23 remaining in regulation for a 3-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild.
The victory, combined with the Islanders' 5-3 win in Pittsburgh, allowed the Rangers to move three points ahead of the Penguins for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
"I'm not gonna pay much attention to what [the Penguins] are doing too much," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves to earn his 36th win of the season. "It's in our hands."
It didn't look too promising for much of the game as the Wild, with nothing to play for, refused to roll over. Minnesota twice trailed by a goal, but used a pair of power-play goals to even the score through two periods.
But Ryan McDonagh fed Fedotenko for a quick shot from in front that beat Josh Harding to break the 2-2 tie. New York now has 103 points, the most in the East and two behind League-leading St. Louis.
"We were looking to try and get that second one, get a two-goal lead," said Rangers coach John Tortorella. "We couldn't kill a penalty, but we stayed with it."
"We were doing a lot of good things and then give them a freebie, in a 2-2 game," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "We didn't do the right thing, we're not alert and we give them a tap-in. Can't happen."
McDonagh, a St. Paul native and former University of Wisconsin Badger, tallied a pair of assists in front of about 80 family and friends in a building that has treated him well. A former state champion and Mr. Hockey Award winner in Minnesota (awarded to the best high school senior in the state), McDonagh returned to the X for the first time since a NCAA Regional game with UW in 2010 (a game the Badgers won to advance to the Frozen Four). He's also won a state title in the building as a junior at Cretin-Derham Hall.
"It was cool thinking back to the high school moments and the state tournament and college games," McDonagh said. "It was pretty fun. I felt comfortable out there with the surroundings."
"He's a guy that wants to extend himself offensively," said Tortorella. "Him and Danny [Girardi] have been our steadiest defense back there. The minutes he racks and who he's playing against, at such a young age, it's really good… really good."
The only goal of the first period came when Brian Boyle stuffed home a rebound in the crease for his eighth of the season at 11:23. The Rangers outshot Minnesota 13-6 in the opening frame.
But the Wild came out more enthused in the second, getting the first of their power-play goals when Kyle Brodziak scored 3:05. The goal was his 20th of the season and fifth on the power play. Entering the season, he had just three man-advantage goals in his entire career.
"We usually take pride in our penalty kill, it's been our biggest strengths as far as special teams goes," McDonagh said. "It's unfortunate we gave up two there, but 5-on-5, we're a confident group in tight games and it showed in the third period. We were able to grind out, create a goal and hold onto a lead."
The Rangers recaptured the lead on another rebound as former Wild sniper Marian Gaborik gathered in the puck near the bottom of the right circle and flipped a shot past Harding at 7:58 for his 38th of the season and third in the last two games.
Gaborik, playing in just his second career game against the Wild, for whom he is still the franchise's all-time leader in goals, assists and points, had a huge smile on his face as he celebrated with teammates. Most of the 17,880 fans in the stands booed loudly. It was Gaborik's first career goal against the Wild -- he has now scored against all 30 NHL teams.
"Of course. It felt good," Gaborik said. "Big win. And it always feels good to win in this building. I've played here with the Rangers twice and we have two wins."
But the lead was short-lived, as Mikko Koivu scored his first goal since returning from a shoulder injury, taking advantage of a sweet pass by Dany Heatley and firing into an open net from the right dot for his 11th of the season. Devin Setoguchi also assisted on the goal.
Thanks in large part to injuries, the Heatley-Koivu-Setoguchi line has failed to get off the ground this season. Tabbed preseason as perhaps the most explosive line in the short history of the franchise, Koivu's goal marked the first time this season Heatley and Setoguchi hooked up on a Koivu goal -- providing a glimpse into why the Wild have struggled so much over the last three months.
The multi-goal game for the Wild power play marked the first time since Dec. 10 at Phoenix -- the final game before the team's season went into a tailspin -- that Minnesota's extra-man unit scored more than once in a game. It was the first time Minnesota had done it at home since Oct. 27.
In its last four home games, Minnesota has scored five goals on the power play in just 13 attempts.
"Special teams were great tonight, we weren't good enough in front of our net," Yeo said. "Three goals, not being alert, not being strong enough."
1 - 0 NYR
1 - 1 Tie