NEW YORK, N.Y. - Surrounded by a small throng of reporters, New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan shared the name of his favourite player in the NHL right now.
Was it Washington star Alex Ovechkin? Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby? Chicago's Jonathan Toews? Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar?
No to all of the above. Try teammate Mats Zuccarello.
Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Kevin Hayes scored in the first period, and the Rangers beat the St. Louis Blues 6-3 on Thursday night for their seventh straight victory.
Zuccarello finished with three points and was one of six Rangers with multiple-point efforts against St. Louis.
"He's playing at such a high level right now. It starts with his compete level," Stepan said. "He competes so hard."
J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi also scored for New York, which improved to 12-2-2. Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves.
Dmitrij Jaskin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Troy Brouwer had the goals for St. Louis, which had won three in a row. The Blues fell to 11-4-1.
"I thought we were going to win this one," Alex Steen said. "We still had a really good vibe and a really good push."
New York and St. Louis entered ranked first and third, respectively, in the NHL in goals against per game. But the first of their two meetings this season was a wild affair.
By the first intermission, the Rangers led 3-1 and the Blues had made a goaltending change.
Jake Allen came in with a shutout streak of 165:59. It ended 4:54 into the first period when Zuccarello fed Brassard at the goalmouth with a pass from behind the net for a tap-in.
Nearly 3 minutes later, Zuccarello increased New York's advantage to 2-0 with his eighth of the season. The sequence began with Brassard finding Zuccarello on the left wing with a diagonal pass. Zuccarello split Jay Bouwmeester and Kyle Brodziak at the blue line before speeding in and snapping a quick shot past Allen.
Hayes' semi-breakaway goal with 5:22 left in the period pushed the lead to 3-0 and prompted coach Ken Hitchcock to replace Allen with Brian Elliott.
Allen allowed three goals on five shots. Elliott finished with 14 saves.
Jaskin's goal at 16:40 of the first cut the deficit to 3-1.
"The best period we played all year on the road was the first period and we were down 3-0," 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 Blues, who finished with a significant advantage in shots on goal (34-22), pressed New York following Jaskin's first of the season. Tarasenko's unassisted goal 5:24 into the second pulled St. Louis within one.
The speedy wing corralled a clearing pass from Lundqvist in the neutral zone and carried the puck up ice before whipping a shot from the left circle that beat the New York goalie high to the glove side.
"He's one of the best players in the game," Lundqvist said. "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."
Miller's slap shot from the top of the left circle allowed New York to regain a two-goal advantage, but Brouwer's power-play goal with 5:39 left in the second sliced the lead to 4-3.
New York took its fourth two-goal lead of the game on McDonagh's power-play goal 2:44 into the third. The Rangers' captain one-timed a feed from Stepan past Elliott, then pumped his fist in celebration.
Girardi's empty-net goal at 18:26 of the third ended the scoring.
"A good test for us to raise our level," Rangers defenceman 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."
NOTES: New York scratched Dylan McIlrath and Dominic Moore. ... Robert Bortuzzo, Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves were listed as scratches by the Blues. ... Former New York Giants offensive lineman David Diehl and New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard were among the 18,006 in attendance.
This story has been corrected with Lundqvist's save total.