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Rangers top Sharks to complete California sweep

by Eric Gilmore /

SAN JOSE -- The New York Rangers arrived in California earlier this week on a roll, but they understood the challenge they faced, playing the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in a four-day span.

They more than answered the challenge.

The Rangers beat the Ducks on Wednesday and the Kings one night later, then completed their California sweep with a 3-1 victory against the Sharks on Saturday at SAP Center.

"I think it was a great answering of the bell," said Rangers forward Rick Nash, who was named to play in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game earlier in the day. "We talked about it for the three days before we came out here that this was going to be a gritty task, and I thought we played great. It's impressive to get these three wins. At the same point, it's just three wins. We have to go home, and those are the toughest games to come back home and play that first game."

The surging Rangers (24-11-4) are off until they host the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders on Tuesday. They trail the Islanders by five points but have three games in hand.

Martin St. Louis, Chris Kreider and Nash each scored a goal and Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves for the Rangers, who won their fifth straight game and are 13-1-0 in their past 14. They completed a California sweep on the same trip for the first time in 11 tries. They also swept their two-game season series with the Sharks.

"We believe we can beat anybody," Lundqvist said. "We also know why we're having success. We work really hard and do the little things right. If you don't do that you can lose to any team in the league. It doesn't matter if you're playing the top teams out here or a team from the East. You have to do the little things right.

"Tonight our game wasn't perfect but we did a lot of important things right and it helped us to win this game. We found a way. We're just having fun right now. When you win, it's relaxed. It's fun to travel and practice and that's what it's all about, try to get points."

The Sharks (22-16-5), coming off a 7-2 loss Thursday to the St. Louis Blues, lost for the fifth time in eight games. Melker Karlsson scored a third-period power-play goal for the Sharks, and Antti Niemi made 29 saves.

"If we apply ourselves that way, most nights at least, we'll give ourselves an opportunity to win," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Two mistakes on faceoff coverage in our end. It's the difference at the end of the night. [The] power play looked like it cleaned itself up, the penalty kill was better. So there are some gains we made, but at the end of the day that doesn't get us something in the bank account."

Lundqvist is on perhaps the hottest streak of his career. He is 11-1-0 in his past 12 games with a 1.57 goals-against average, a save percentage of .939 and one shutout. The victory against the Sharks was his 20th of the season; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first goaltender in NHL history to win 20 or more games in each of his first 10 seasons in the League.

"Personally I felt like the timing was good," Lundqvist said. "I was tracking the puck really well. I think the last month and a half I feel like we're more in control so it's easy for me to find my game and be focused on the things I have to be good at, not getting involved in the things we need to do in front of me because we're so good right now. I just try to take advantage of that and relax and play my game. There was a lot of action. I felt like I was involved right away. It was fun."

The Rangers took a 2-0 lead into the third period on the strength of first-period goals by St. Louis and Kreider.

The Rangers nearly extended their lead to 3-0 at 4:24 of the third period when Mats Zuccarello tried to jam a rebound past Niemi from close range. Niemi made a sprawling glove save, barely keeping the puck from completely crossing the goal line. After a long video review, the no-goal call on the ice stood; the NHL Situation Room ruled that video evidence was deemed inconclusive in determining whether the puck crossed the goal line.

"Pucks in the mitt, mitt's in the net," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "I'll let you use your common sense."

San Jose cut the Rangers' lead to 2-1 at 7:14 when Karlsson scored on the power play, extending his goal streak to five games. Lundqvist stopped James Sheppard's shot from the slot, but Karlsson buried the rebound against his fellow Swede.

"He's a big player in Sweden and I was looking forward to playing tonight," Karlsson said. "I scored today and it's unreal. In the end I just want to win games. It's nice to score, but we lost. I thought we played well. We had a good forecheck that created some chances. We couldn't get it in and they did."

Lundqvist preserved the lead when he made a brilliant glove save of Matt Nieto's shorthanded blast with less than eight minutes left to play. Nash hit the empty net with 59.1 seconds remaining for his 26th goal, tying him with Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars for the most in the NHL.

Sharks center Joe Thornton returned to the lineup after missing four games with a shoulder injury, but did not get a goal or an assist.

St. Louis opened the scoring at 10:40 of the first period with his 14th goal of the season when he took a pass in the slot from Kreider and beat Niemi with a snap shot. Thornton had won a faceoff in San Jose's end, but the puck went off his stick to Kreider at the left of the crease; he sent a quick pass to St. Louis, who scored on the Rangers' second shot of the game.

Kreider made it 2-0 at 15:13 with his eighth goal of the season. Dan Girardi sent the puck toward the net through traffic from the right circle; Kreider got inside position on Sharks defenseman Justin Braun and scored on a wrist shot from close range.

Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle faced his former team for the first time since signing as a free agent with New York after last season, his sixth with San Jose. Boyle went to the dressing room early in the first period after taking an elbow from Sheppard and breaking his nose, but he returned to the ice with 12:46 left in the period.

During a break in the action with 8:26 remaining in the first, the Sharks showed a video of Boyle highlights on the big screen above center ice. Boyle received a standing ovation, then stood and raised his stick to the fans as players from both teams tapped their sticks on the boards

"It felt great," Boyle said of the ovation. "I'm so thankful and grateful to, one, be at this level in the NHL, in this League and to have played for this team for six years. Just very thankful and grateful. It was an amazing moment. It was just a minute long, but that's going to stay with me for a lifetime."

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