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Rangers take care of business vs. Sens

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski and defenseman Steve Eminger congratulate rookie Derek Stepan on his 18th goal of the season Friday night at Ottawa. Stepan's third-period goal increased the lead to 4-0.

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By Jim Cerny,

On Friday night at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, the Rangers not only scored the first goal of the game against the Senators, they netted the first four en-route to an important 4-1 victory that snapped a three-game skid.

The win was the third straight on the road for the Blueshirts, who now have 20 victories away from Madison Square Garden this season. Their 20 road wins ties the Rangers for fourth in the league, just two behind co-leaders Boston and Detroit.

“It’s a big win for us, and this time of year we need them,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “We obviously didn’t want to lose another one, especially going back home against the Flyers, we didn’t want this losing streak to continue. It was a big game and a good win.”

Just as they did 24 hours earlier against the Minnesota Wild, the Rangers scored the only goal of a well-played first period on Friday. However, unlike that 3-1 loss to the Wild, the Rangers came out strong in the second period and buried the Senators with a pair of goals scored 12 seconds apart to secure an imposing 3-0 lead.

“It’s been a tough time for us trying to get off to good early starts, but we played well tonight and did what we needed to,” said Derek Stepan, who contributed a goal and assist. “It’s not like against the other games we haven’t had our chances, it’s just a bounce here, a bounce there, so it was good for us to get another one after taking the lead and then just keep rolling.”

Strong work deep in the offensive zone by Sean Avery led directly to the game-opening goal from Vinny Prospal at the 10:08 mark of the first period. First, Avery won a battle with Sens defenseman Chris Phillips for the puck behind Ottawa’s net, then he fed a pass to Prospal alone in the right wing circle, and finally Avery skated right in front of Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, obscuring his vision just as Prospal fired his shot towards the net.

Rangers forward Artem Anisimov had the knockout punch for the Senators in the second period, when he scored just 12 seconds after a Mats Zuccarello goal to give his team a commanding 3-0 lead.
Prospal, who missed the first 53 games this season following knee surgery, scored his fourth goal since returning to the lineup on Feb. 3. He now has points in three consecutive games (1-2-3) and has six points (2-4-6) in his last six games as he slowly regains his pre-injury offensive form.

Avery, who scored the Rangers’ lone goal on Thursday night, now has 21 assists on the season, tied for third on the team.

The second period began without a whistle for more than six minutes. In fact there wasn’t a play stoppage until Mats Zuccarello scored at 6:26 to give the visitors the coveted two-goal advantage.

Zuccarello controlled the puck in the left wing corner after a pass from Wojtek Wolski, and then slipped a pass to Stepan at the bottom of the left circle. As Stepan zipped a shot on goal, Zuccarello charged towards the crease, collected the rebound, and deposited his fourth goal behind Anderson for a 2-0 Rangers’ lead.

“It’s easier to stick with the game plan when you get the lead and then add to that lead,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made his 11th straight start on Friday. “It was another strong game, and strong start for us, but the difference is we scored goals tonight.”

The goal was Zuccarello’s first in 19 games, and it deflated Ottawa enough for Artem Anisimov to take advantage after the ensuing faceoff. Anisimov accepted a Callahan pass, danced around the Sens defense, and beat Anderson with a gorgeous forehand finish for his 15th goal at 6:38.

“Artie makes a nice power move to the net, and he’s one of the best at that,” said Stepan. “I mean, I don’t know how many times he’s done that this year, so far, even if he didn’t always score. That was a big goal for Artie.”

With the Rangers having just stunned his club with goals on back-to-back shifts, Senators coach Cory Clouston called timeout following Anisimov’s goal, and to his team’s credit, they did finish the second period in strong fashion.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had a very strong performance in the win at Ottawa, stopping 28 of 29 shots to earn No. 1 star honors and move to within four victories of a sixth straight 30-win season.
However, Lundqvist remained poised and focused in keeping Ottawa off of the scoreboard. His lightning-quick stop on Nick Foligno’s slam-dunk try at 8:28 was particularly highlight show-worthy.

Lundqvist was also a bit lucky, as Erik Karlsson rang a shot off the crossbar with 4.5 seconds to go in the middle period.

Early in the third period, Lundqvist, annoyed at being bumped after the whistle by Foligno, took part in a scrum outside his crease. In the four-on-four that followed -- with Brian Boyle and Ottawa’s Chris Neil in the penalty box -- Stepan scored his 18th goal to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead.

Sent in behind the defense on a perfect lead pass by Wolski, Stepan calmly flipped a forehand shot past Anderson to give him his 38th point of the season, tied for second most on the club. Defenseman Steve Eminger -- back in the lineup in the place of Ryan McDonagh, who has a sore knee -- also earned an assist on Stepan’s goal while playing in his 400th NHL game.

Ottawa finally broke through and ruined Lundqvist’s bid for his league-high ninth shutout when Sergei Gonchar fired a power play shot through a screen in front 4:56 into the third period.

Lundqvist, however, finished strong -- even making a diving save with six minutes left to play - to make sure that the Rangers headed back home with two precious points. Lundqvist finished the night with 28 saves.

“I think everyone is aware of how tight (the standings) are and how serious the situation is,” said Lundqvist. “But we can’t be nervous. It’s a great challenge and it’s still in our hands (to make the playoffs). We just have to keep at it the right way down the stretch here.”

The Rangers are right back in action on Sunday when they host the Flyers in a matinee at The Garden.
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