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Stepan returns, helps Rangers defeat Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- Derek Stepan needed a pregame skate before New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was sure the center was recovered from an upper-body injury that kept him out the previous game.

Vigneault made the right call.

Stepan set up goals by Marc Staal and Chris Kreider, and Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves for New York in a 2-1 victory against the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Friday.

"There's no doubt his contribution to our win was very important," Vigneault said of Stepan. "Everybody knows that Derek is a solid two-way player, and he showed that again tonight."

The Rangers (25-13-4) had lost their previous two games, each by a 3-0 score. They had gone 146:59 without a goal before Staal scored at 5:59 of the second period.

Columbus (18-21-3) has lost four straight.

Staal and Kreider scored less than five minutes apart for a 2-0 Rangers lead before Scott Hartnell drew the Blue Jackets to within a goal at 3:16 of third.

Lundqvist made 11 of his 35 saves after Hartnell's goal to help the Rangers hang on for the victory after losing at the Boston Bruins on Thursday.

"It was a fun game to play, but challenging," Lundqvist said. "They put a lot of pressure on the net.

"We wanted to get back right away with a win. It doesn't really matter how we do it. It wasn't pretty, but we found a way to win."

Hartnell scored his ninth goal after taking a stretch pass from Ryan Johansen, who has a point in 12 straight games for the longest active streak in the NHL.

Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was also given an assist, the fourth of his career, after he robbed former Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash and the puck went to Johansen on the transition.

"It was a great save," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "It was an unbelievable save. You're on the bench going 'whew' just because of the save, and then you get excited because you have an opportunity at the other end."

The Rangers were outshot 12-2 in the third period.

"We had our chances. Lundqvist stood on his head at times," Hartnell said.

An apparent New York goal with 1:26 left in the third was waved off on the ice, and video review was inconclusive in determining whether defenseman Kevin Klein contacted the puck with his stick above the crossbar. Klein's shot hit Bobrovsky, then the rebound went into the net off Hartnell.

It didn't prove crucial because Lundqvist made a save on a James Wisniewski slap shot with 23 seconds left and Bobrovsky off for an extra attacker.

"The third period was a little sluggish, but once we got the goal, it gave us some life," Richards said. "We really liked the first period. We had a lot of energy. We pursued pucks, created a lot of turnovers and had some opportunities.

"The second period, we got away from our game. Some of it was when they scored. We became a little undisciplined. They're a rush team, and we gave up 3-on-2s."

New York took a 1-0 lead when Staal scored his second of the season after Columbus left wing Matt Calvert lost his stick and Klein kept possession in the zone. Klein passed the puck to Stepan, who found Staal in the left circle for a shot that went through traffic.

"You could see when we scored that first goal we relaxed a bit," Lundqvist said. "We started playing a lot better. We had more speed in our game."

On the next goal, Stepan moved the puck ahead to Kreider on the fly at the Columbus blue line for a breakaway. Kreider beat Bobrovsky with a backhand past the goalie's outstretched left pad at 10:10 for his ninth goal.

Stepan said he was tired of sitting in the press box and wanted to get back on the ice as soon as possible after the injury.

"I felt good [Thursday] morning. It just wasn't good enough to go," he said. "As a group we came out in the second period and did a lot of little things very well like we did earlier in the season. We have to continue to do it, because when we execute in the second like we do, we're a really tough team."

Columbus right wing Josh Anderson made his NHL debut and had two shots in 11:21 of ice time.

"I got a couple of chances," he said. "A lot of guys told me don't worry about it. Don't be nervous. Play your own game. That's what I tried to do. It's unfortunate we didn't get the win."

The Rangers were 0-for-1 on the power play, and Columbus 0-for-3.

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