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Zuccarello has three points, Rangers defeat Blues

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- Quick starts and strong finishes have allowed the New York Rangers to string together seven consecutive wins and gain 26 out of a possible 32 points so far this season.

All of that was on display against the St. Louis Blues at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, when the Rangers scored early, got out to a three-goal lead, nearly found themselves in a tie game, but got some insurance and locked it down in the third period of a 6-3 win.

Mats Zuccarello had three points on a goal and two assists to give him a team-high 15 points as the Rangers (12-2-2) improved to 9-0-2 in their past 11 games. They have scored 27 goals during their seven-game winning streak.

Rick Nash had two points for the third time in his past four games. Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller and defenseman Dan Girardi also had two points apiece, including goals for Brassard, Miller and Girardi (empty net).

Captain Ryan McDonagh and center Kevin Hayes also scored for the Rangers, who got 31 saves from Lundqvist.

"It's big for us to beat this team," Lundqvist said. "We talked about it [Thursday] morning, to go in here and find a way. We did."

New York led 3-1 after the first period despite being outshot 16-7. They had a 4-3 lead after the second period despite a 26-15 shot discrepancy. The Blues (11-4-1) got goals from Dmitrij Jaskin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Troy Brouwer (power play).

"I thought when it was 4-3, we were going to win for sure," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought with the way we were playing, we were really dominating the offensive zone, we were going to win for sure."

The Rangers instead scored twice in the third period, when the shots were only 8-7 in favor of St. Louis despite the fact that the Blues were chasing. McDonagh's power-play goal at 2:44 gave New York a two-goal lead and Girardi capped it with an empty-net goal.

"In the third, I felt we controlled the game a lot better and that's how we have to play against such a good team," Lundqvist said. "This was a good test. I felt even though we were up, the game could have gone either way the way it was played. I'm happy that we corrected our game and challenged ourselves going into the third, and we played a really smart third period."

The Rangers have played strong in the third period since coach Alain Vigneault arrived for the 2013-14 season. They are 74-1-3 when in games they have the lead going into the third period, including 10-0-0 this season after going 36-0-1 last season.

New York has allowed nine goals in the third period this season, tied for second fewest in the NHL. It has allowed 131 third period goals in 180 games under Vigneault. The Rangers have scored 173.

"It's doing the right thing to be conditioned for the third period, bearing down and making plays," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "In the first and second periods, I feel we just kind of play, and the third period comes and we start making those smart plays. We need to do that for three periods and we're not going to have to spend more time in our end and battle through the chances against."

The Blues had several chances in the first period despite being down 3-0 at 14:38, when Hitchcock pulled starting goalie Jake Allen in favor of Brian Elliott.

Allen came into the game with a shutout streak of 165:59 making 96 saves in consecutive shutouts, but allowed goals to Brassard and Zuccarello on his first two shots against. He gave up three goals on five shots.

Brassard scored when he was open in the slot to receive a pass from Zuccarello, who was behind the net. Zuccarello beat defenseman Jay Bouwmeester one-on-one before scoring on Allen. Hayes got behind center Scott Gomez for a breakaway goal that sent Allen to the bench.

Lundqvist had eight saves by that point, including a showstopper on Alex Steen at 5:40, when he reached back and across the crease to make a save with his stick.

"That was the best period we played all year on the road and we're down 3-0," Hitchcock said. "We played a great first period. I don't think I've coached a game on the road when we've had this many scoring chances, but we made mistakes. For the first time in a little while we made mistakes and we paid for it. The errors we made were big."

New York leads the League with 20 goals in the first period this season after finishing first last season with 84. The Rangers are 9-1-1 when scoring first this season and 50-7-4 dating to last season. No team has scored the first goal in more games than the Rangers (61) since the start of last season.

"Starts are so critical in this league," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "To play with the lead, it just makes a huge difference. It forces a team to play a little different than they want to play, and start taking some risk. When they do, that we try to take advantage of it and counter."


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