NEW YORK -- Not only did the New York Rangers win without Rick Nash on Tuesday, the player who replaced him on the top line provided the only goal they needed against the Calgary Flames.
Kevin Hayes scored three minutes into the third period and Cam Talbot made 21 saves to lift the Rangers to a 1-0 victory at Madison Square Garden. Hayes is normally New York's third-line center but was playing on the first line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello with Nash out of the lineup because of neck spasms.
Nash, the second leading scorer in the NHL with 37 goals (trailing Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who has 38), is considered day-to-day. He missed his first game of the season Tuesday.
"I didn't even know until I got to the rink before the game," Hayes said of his move up the lineup to Nash's spot on the top line. "[Carl Hagelin] actually told me. I'm nothing like Rick Nash, but I was lucky enough to get a goal out there."
New York (37-16-6) has points in nine straight games (7-0-2) and improved to 10-1-2 in its past 13 games. The Rangers are 8-1-2 since goalie Henrik Lundqvist was taken out of the lineup because of a vascular injury.
The Rangers are two points behind the New York Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division, but have a three-point lead on the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins and a four-point lead on the fourth place Capitals.
The Rangers have three games in hand on the Islanders, one on the Penguins and two on the Capitals. The Penguins and Capitals play in Washington on Wednesday.
Talbot had his first shutout since taking over as New York's temporary No. 1 goalie. He allowed 28 goals in his previous nine starts. Talbot credited the defensive structure in front of him for the win Tuesday.
"We didn't give up those Grade A chances from right in the slot," Talbot said. "Anything we gave them we pushed them to the outside. After that it was just kind of finding sticks and I was able to control a lot of the rebounds, which is nice. We didn't give them a lot of second opportunities, where they thrive."
The Flames (32-24-4), who started a season-high seven-game road trip on Tuesday, remain out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they caught a break with the Minnesota Wild losing in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Flames trail the Wild by one point for the second wild-card spot.
Calgary, which has lost three in a row (0-2-1), plays at the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday before finishing its New York/New Jersey swing of this road trip Friday at Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders. The Flames also have games at the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators before playing their next home game on March 11.
"The next game is as close to as desperate as we've been all season," Flames captain Mark Giordano said. "It's close to a must-win game for us. Teams are going on runs. We've got to be aware of that. When teams get points every night, you can fall out of it. We have to stop this."
Hayes' 12th goal of the season was a result of a turnover in the defensive zone by Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman. Brassard stripped the puck from Wideman and went toward the net before leaving a drop pass back to Hayes for a glove-side one-timer from the right circle that got past Flames goalie Karri Ramo.
With the assist, Brassard set a career high for points in a season with 48 through 57 games. His previous high of 47 came in 74 games during the 2010-11 season, when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"[Brassard] had a great forecheck, a great stick and made a great pass," Hayes said. "He basically did everything and I just got to finish it off."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he had a couple of possibilities in mind to fill the hole in the lineup created by Nash's absence, but settled on Hayes, who hadn't played left wing since early in his collegiate career. Hayes was a right wing at Boston College last season and has been a center with the Rangers this season.
"I felt lost out there a couple times, but guys were giving me pointers and tips and I kind of learned throughout the game," Hayes said.
The Rangers would have had an early lead if not for Ramo's highlight-reel glove save on J.T. Miller during a Rangers power play at 1:46 of the first period. Ramo reached back with his glove to rob Miller, who was alone at the right post after Hayes' deflection from the slot hit the post. Ramo made 28 saves.
"I was just trying to get something and I was lucky enough to get it," Ramo said. "He put it in my glove. I got lucky with the tip that hit the post and I got a second chance."
Talbot had to make three saves on one sequence entering the final minute of the second period. He made back-to-back saves on Flames forward Josh Jooris from the left circle before holding onto Sean Monahan's shot off the rebound from the right circle with one minute remaining.
The Rangers prevented the Flames from establishing much pressure or forecheck in the third period. Calgary had six shots on goal and 13 total shot attempts in the third; the Rangers had 10 shots on goal and 16 total attempts.
"It felt like everybody was playing in the right structure, especially in the 'D' zone, a lot of communication," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We really didn't allow them to get any rebounds. It felt more like a prototypical Ranger game that we want to play."