VANCOUVER -- The New York Rangers identified the Vancouver Canucks' tendency to have their defensemen pinch in aggressively at the offensive blue line and quickly made them pay for it at the other end.
The Rangers scored on three straight shots from odd-man rushes to jump out to a three-goal lead in the opening 6:46 of a 5-1 win against the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh opened the scoring with his first goal of the season on a 3-on-1 at 2:36, J.T. Miller doubled the lead on a 2-on-1 rush 43 seconds later and Mats Zuccarello finished off another 3-on-1 break three and a half minutes after that to make it 3-0.
"You don't expect to get those kinds of looks," McDonagh said. "We pre-scouted, our coaches talked about that a lot. … We understood the opportunities we were going to have if we were able to make that play on the wall."
Zuccarello added a second goal and defenseman Marc Staal also scored for New York (13-10-4), which got a goal from each forward line and 29 saves from Henrik Lundqvist to open a four-game road trip.
"We played the way we talked about going into this game," Lundqvist said. "Their 'D' pinch a lot so we have to be smart on the blue line and it really paid off in the first period. We scored a couple goals and it really gave us confidence."
Nick Bonino broke Lundqvist's shutout bid 4:20 into the third period and Ryan Miller made 18 saves, including a penalty shot by Martin St. Louis late in the second. The Canucks have lost four straight games (0-3-1) for the first time this season and coach Willie Desjardins conceded it may be time to tweak a system the Rangers exploited.
"You play a certain way, then you get caught on it," Desjardins said. "I think we have to make some adjustments in the system. Coming off the road we were talking about it. We were going to have make adjustments. I thought most of those adjustments were because we weren't fresh. But today we were fresh and they did catch us a little bit by surprise with their speed. We weren't quick."
Vancouver (18-10-2) was playing at home for the first time since Nov. 25, but the crowd didn't have much to cheer about.
"Embarrassing from shift one to the end," captain Henrik Sedin said. "We gambled way too much out there. We tried to create chances and cheated to do that. We have done that for a few games now where we haven't played up to our standards. We have been in the other games but we just have been hiding our mistakes. Tonight we paid."
The onslaught started after the Canucks' top line with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin got caught in the offensive end after a really long shift and defenseman Ryan Stanton made an ill-advised pinch. New York's fourth line broke out the other way and Jesper Fast held the puck into the right faceoff circle before sending a pass to a streaking McDonagh for a backdoor tap in behind a stranded Miller.
"It was a heck of a pass, all I had to do was put my stick down," McDonagh said of his first goal after scoring 14 last season. "I've got to continue to play to my strengths and that's using my skating ability to join the rush and create offense. I felt I was getting closer, getting better looks and thankfully one went in."
Vancouver surrendered a 4-on-1 rush 20 seconds later, but the Rangers failed to get a shot after missing a cross-crease pass.
It didn't matter. The Canucks gave up another odd-man rush on the next shift and Derek Stepan finished the 2-on-1 with a cross-ice pass to J.T. Miller, who had enough time to cut back across the crease, catching Ryan Miller sliding the other way for an empty net.
"They've had success pinching and our coaches did a good job of getting a pre-scout and it just comes down to execution and we did a real good job coming out of our own zone," Stepan said. "It starts in our own end and ends up in the back of the net at the other end."
A bad pinch by defenseman Kevin Bieksa set up another Rangers 3-on-1 over three minutes later. Rick Nash passed to Zuccarello after they crossed the blue line and he skated into the faceoff circle before beating Miller with a far-side wrist shot past the blocker.
"We weren't on the same page," Bieksa said. "We talked about being the initiator and being aggressive. When we are trying to keep the puck in, it's a five-man process. We made some pinches we shouldn't have. We gave up way too many odd-man chances, especially at the beginning of the game. We didn't help [Miller] out a lot."
The Rangers, who had been off since Monday and were playing their first game outside the Eastern time zone since the season opener at the St. Louis Blues, added two more goals in the second period.
Staal made it 4-0 on a screen shot and Zuccarello added his second goal with 2:21 left in the second period after a nice passing play from Nash and Derick Brassard left him with a tap in behind Miller.
"Wrong decisions all over the ice," Henrik Sedin said. "Forwards not coming back, not keeping the third guy high, defense pinching when they shouldn't. On every one of those you can point out three or four mistakes. It's not just one guy, it's from all five guys on the ice."
The Rangers took advantage with 12 different players recording at least one point in a balanced attack. Zuccarello's two goals snapped a five-game drought and extended Nash's point streak to nine games and Brassard's to five. Nash has six goals and five assists during that stretch; Brassard has two goals and five assists.
"You could tell we had the jump tonight," Lundqvist said.
But even the Rangers goalie was surprised how many odd-man rushes it led to.
"A little bit," Lundqvist said. "We talked about them pinching. I didn't think they were going to go that hard every time. It was almost like a 50-50 puck they were going for it and we made them pay."