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Oilers top Rangers in Pouliot's return to Garden

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The Edmonton Oilers wouldn't let the New York Rangers near the net, wouldn't let them sniff a shot.

Leading by one goal at the start of the third period Sunday, the Oilers made sure goalie Viktor Fasth had the best seat inside Madison Square Garden for almost 11 minutes in the third period. All he had to do was watch his team go to work on the other side.

The Rangers didn't get a shot on goal until 10:55 had expired in the third period. They wound up with seven in the period, but Fasth stopped them all and the Oilers protected their lead before scoring a late empty-net goal for a 3-1 win, their second consecutive road victory after losing their first five games away from Rexall Place.

The Oilers coughed up a one-goal third-period lead Thursday against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden and lost 5-2. That they were able to hold this one-goal lead against the Rangers is a sign of the progress they need to show this season.

"We have to do a better job, and I think we're getting there, of holding leads," said Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had a goal and an assist. "Against Boston we didn't do a good enough job, there were a few big mistakes, and we limited those [Sunday]. That really goes to show how much more mature our team is this year."

Benoit Pouliot's return to the Garden went about as well as he could have hoped. He scored the game-winning goal and had an assist in his first game against the Rangers since he helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

Nugent-Hopkins had an identical stat line to Pouliot, and Fasth, starting his second straight game, made 20 saves for his second straight win.

The Oilers also beat the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Saturday. They'll try to complete their five-game road trip with a winning record when they play Tuesday against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Edmonton lost the first two games of the trip.

"Last year was awesome and coming back here and playing against those guys that I had a great time with it's going to push you a little more," Pouliot said. "You want to do well. We came out with the win so that was huge for us. Two wins in a row, we just gotta keep it going."

The loss Sunday makes two in a row in regulation for the Rangers. They lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 on Saturday.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was disappointed with the defensive effort, particularly by the forwards, in Toronto. He felt worse about the way they played Sunday, when they were outshot 33-21.

"I felt prior to the weekend that we were on the right track. This game has a funny way of kicking you right where you least expect it sometimes," Vigneault said. "[Saturday] night we should have won. We didn't get it done. [Sunday night] you're expecting the group to come back and show the character and leadership that you know that they have, and to come up with that type of performance is to say the least, if you say disappointing it would be the understatement of the week."

The Rangers are 1-2-2 in their past five games. They play at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. The Penguins have won seven games in a row.

"Next game we are playing probably the best team in the League," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 30 saves. "We need to be right on all the things we are doing out there, making the right plays and making the right decisions and stopping a lot of pucks. That is going to probably be our biggest test so far, the next game."

Edmonton held the Rangers without a shot on goal from 16:56 of the second period until 10:55 of the third period, a span of 13:59.

Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said the key was his team didn't stray from the game plan just so it could better protect the lead. Edmonton stayed aggressive and found out that is a better way to protect a lead.

"We had had success throughout the game playing an aggressive game, and other than tweaking it just a tiny bit our guys stayed with that aggression," Eakins said. "When you start getting the result like that there's not that negative thought in your head like, 'Oh, something bad is going to happen.' If we continue doing this we're going to be rewarded."

Vigneault expected the Rangers to have a push in the third period. He instead said they were slow and disjointed.

"There wasn't a lot of execution to our game," he said.

The Oilers had a 2-1 lead and a 24-14 advantage in shots on goal after two periods. Nugent-Hopkins was responsible for the first goal at 3:19 of the first period and set up Pouliot for the second (at 8:29 of the second).

Nugent-Hopkins has nine points (five goals, four assists) in his past 10 games.

"This kid is coming like gangbusters right now, and that's important," Eakins said of Nugent-Hopkins. "We've got other guys coming right behind him too. I thought it was a great, great team effort."

Rangers forward Carl Hagelin scored from the right circle at 12:34 of the first period to tie the game at 1-1, but the Oilers dominated the majority of the second period. They outshot the Rangers 13-6 and Pouliot scored on a shot from the right circle that went through Lundqvist's legs.

Pouliot said he was shooting for the glove side but fortuitously fanned on the shot.

"I thought our team played a real good, good road game and those are the kind of games that we want to get the result in because it goes a long way for the learning process for our guys on how to be comfortable in a game like that, how to be comfortable with the lead, and how to close it out as well," Eakins said. "So, very encouraging signs for our group all the way around."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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