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Lindberg, Lundqvist lead Rangers past Blue Jackets

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault presented the challenge to goalie Henrik Lundqvist in their 1-on-1 meeting after last season.

Be better at the start of next season, Vigneault told Lundqvist. Simple, straightforward and memorable.

"That stayed with me the entire summer and coming back to camp," Lundqvist said.

Lundqvist's response is a big reason why the Rangers are perfect through three games to start this season.

He made 37 saves and New York got two more goals from rookie forward Oscar Lindberg to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Rangers (3-0-0) scored three goals in the first 5:48 of the game after scoring three goals in the final 2:36 of the third period Friday at Nationwide Arena to spoil the Blue Jackets' home-opener.

Lundqvist raised his save percentage to .943 (six goals on 106 shots) and shed the slow-starter label that has been attached to him since 2010. He posted a sub-.900 save percentage in his first three starts four times in the previous five seasons, including .815 (14 goals on 76 shots) last season.

New York hasn't started 3-0-0 since the 2008-09 season, when Lundqvist had a .944 save percentage in the first three games (four goals on 72 shots).

"I saw it as a great challenge for me to come back and be ready," Lundqvist said. "My second half has been a lot better for most years, and if I can be steady all year I think it's going to help me, it's going to help the team. That was my challenge going into this year, to try to play at a higher level, reach my level as soon as I could. It's only a couple games in, but I feel a lot better than I have in recent years."

Lindberg continued to pile up the goals, scoring New York's first two on Saturday to give him four goals in three games, including at least one in each game.

He is the first rookie in Rangers history to score a goal in each of their first three games of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He is also the first Rangers player to score a goal in each of the first three games of his rookie season since Steven King scored in four straight in 1992-93 (Dec. 6-13).

Lindberg scored his two goals Saturday from the slot, one on a rebound at 1:20 and the other off his skate from a centering pass by forward J.T. Miller at 5:12.

"He's going to where the goals are scored," Miller said of Lindberg. "I think we're creating a little havoc turning the pucks over, and as soon as we turn it over it seems like he's always in the right spot. On all the goals there he's always in the right spot and he's always wide open. A scoring knack is hard to come by.

"Four in three games is probably not what he expected, but at the same time I don't see any reason why he can't score next game. He's playing great and obviously he's a big part of the team now."

Dominic Moore also scored in the first period to make it 3-0. Derick Brassard scored a power-play goal late in the second period, and Derek Stepan scored early in the third.

Blue Jackets forwards Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner scored in the third period, but not before the Rangers built a 5-0 lead.

"Disappointing the way we started," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "We knew what we did wrong [Friday] and wanted to come out and right the wrong. We weren't able to overcome the adversity of a couple of bad bounces, and that's on us. We have to be better and mentally tougher in that regard."

The Rangers' three goals in the first 5:48 on Saturday gave them six goals against Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in a span of 8:24 dating back to the final few minutes of the game Friday.

Bobrovsky, though, stayed in after giving up the three early goals and settled down despite not getting much help from his skaters. He turned aside a wide-open shot from the slot by Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and denied two shorthanded breakaways and a Rick Nash penalty shot during a Blue Jackets power play late in the first period.

"We gave up a 2-on-1 and five breakaways coming into the penalty shot," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said, "and that's not good hockey when you're doing that."

Meanwhile, Lundqvist kept turning aside Columbus' opportunities, proving again that his solid preseason (2.25 goals-against average, .933 save percentage in three games) was no fluke and he was prepared to start the season strong.

"I spent more time this camp to prepare mentally, which is a big part of my game, my focus," Lundqvist said. "Sometimes it takes me a little bit to get there, but I think I pushed myself to get there faster this year."

Lundqvist made 14 saves in the first period and 12 more in the second, none better than his stick save on Johansen at 18:42 of the second period.

Columbus gained the zone by getting the puck into the corner, but it hit the boards and angled back to the front of the net as Lundqvist was going behind to play it as if it was going to rim around. Lundqvist raced back, stuck out his stick, and used it to block Johansen's wrist shot.

"When I made that one I thought to myself, 'OK, maybe I'm a little lucky tonight,'" Lundqvist said. "I'll take that one."

Brassard scored his power-play goal 30 seconds later to make it 4-0. It was the last shot Bobrovsky faced; he was replaced by Curtis McElhinney to start the third period, when Stepan scored against him at 1:26.

"You could tell just from the start of training camp [Lundqvist] was confident, he was focused, and he wanted to have a very good start," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "It's carried over into the season. He's been sharp, very confident and that's a huge reason why we've been able to get these three wins."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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