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Recap: Zibanejad Scores Hat Trick to Lead Rangers Past Devils

by Michael Obernauer / NYRangers.com

NEWARK - The Rangers are coming home for a 10-day homestand, a midseason extended stay on Broadway just at a time when their No. 1 line is putting on a captivating show.

Mats Zuccarello's return to the cast made the Rangers' top line whole again, and they picked up right where they left off - which is to say, they put on a dominant performance in New Jersey on Thursday night and lit the match on the Rangers' come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Devils.

Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers' No. 1 center who has played in all 50 of their games this season, scored his first hat trick in a Blueshirt and the second of his NHL career, and he and his linemates, Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, combined on an eight-point night that now gives that trio 31 points over the last six games in which they have all been in action together.

Video: NYR@NJD: Zibanejad notches second career hat trick

On this night, though, the numbers alone fail to tell the story of just how much chasing the Devils had to do when that trio was on the ice.

"Every time I got on the ice with them we were in the O zone, and they were hanging onto pucks, making plays," said Marc Staal. "It's like they were playing shinny out there. It was fun to watch."

This was the first time a Ranger had crossed the Hudson River and laid a hat trick on the Devils since Mark Messier made good on The Guarantee, on May 25, 1994.

Zibanejad was 13 months old then. Now he has his fourth career 20-goal season, on the strength of eight goals in his last five games. He is the second Ranger this season to hit the 20-goal mark, along with Kreider, and his four-point night (he assisted on Kreider's third-period goal that gave the Rangers their first lead after they had fallen behind 2-0) made it 13 points in the last seven games and extended his team-leading total to 48.

Video: NYR@NJD: Kreider breaks tie with quick snap shot

"He's a good player, really good," Henrik Lundqvist said of his countryman Zibanejad, adding of that line: "They won us the game. … That skill level, when they're on top of their game, that's a line that's going to make a big difference a lot of nights."

The Devils grabbed a 2-0 on power-play goals by Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson, and got a game-tying score on Egor Yakovlev's second career goal in the final frame. But Lundqvist stopped 19 shots in the game, his final two coming on All-Star teammate Kyle Palmieri and ex-Ranger Brian Boyle on a goalmouth scramble in the game's final minute.

Video: NYR@NJD: Lundqvist turns away Rooney with pad save

Kevin Hayes had a pair of assists for the Rangers, and Pavel Buchnevich, playing himself into a prominent role late in the game, picked up a helper on the game-winner.

The Rangers now have four wins out of their last five games; Zibanejad has scored the winner in all of them. This time it was a thing of beauty, with Zuccarello buying time behind the goal line for Zibanejad to beat his man to a scoring area and then undress Keith Kinkaid with a deke to his backhand.

"It's nice to be able to contribute, and nice to have Zucc back. We've seen the chemistry before and we saw it again tonight," Zibanejad said. "It's a fun line to play with. We're playing I would say fun hockey. We're moving the puck, we're moving (our feet), we're skating out there and we're finding each other. It seems to be working right now."

Zuccarello was no certainty to suit up for this game - a foot infection kept him out of Tuesday's Garden match with the Flyers, and the Rangers warmed up 19 skaters on Thursday in case Zuccarello didn't feel he could go. But once he gave the thumbs-up to skate in his 499th game as a Ranger, he went on to set up the last three goals the Blueshirts scored, and in his first game in 12 days, skated 22:41 to lead all Rangers.

"I kept looking after the period and I'm like, 'Boy, he's playing a lot of minutes, I've got to cut him back.' But he didn't give me any reason not to put him out there," Quinn said. "He never looked tired and he kept playing. I'm going to keep playing him."

As for Zibanejad, if his third goal to win it was the play of the night, then his first goal was not far behind, because it was the moment the game turned for the Rangers. Down a pair following a trio of first-period penalties, the Rangers got a power play of their own when Johansson was booked for interference with 6.2 seconds left in the first. It seemed likely the Rangers would start the second with a man-advantage; instead, Zibanejad won a faceoff back to Hayes, and with time winding down and a massive lane opening up, Hayes wound and fired, and Zibanejad reached out and put a tip on it to beat Kinkaid (21 saves).

Video: NYR@NJD: Zibanejad completes hatty with beauty

Quinn said he believed that goal let his team relax and "swung the tide for us."

"It's amazing what can happen when you get a goal with under two seconds to go in a period, how you can carry that momentum," Quinn said. "I thought we did that."

With the Rangers taking over the game in the second, Zibanejad scored again to tie it late in the period - 14 seconds into a power play, this time - when Zuccarello fed him from the right wall to the left dot, and he whipped a shot upstairs before Kinkaid could get across and square. Kreider put them ahead with his team-leading 23rd of the year, after Zibanejad started the play with a spin move on Blake Coleman and wound the puck down low to Zuccarello, who relayed it to Kreider at the right hashmarks.

Yakovlev answered just 53 seconds later, and that tie lasted a shade under 10 minutes before Zibanejad and Zuccarello worked another play at the end of yet another long shift in the New Jersey zone. "The pass was right on my tape," said Zibanejad, who was calling for it once he had Hischier beat through the middle. "I didn't expect anything else."

Buchnevich, who was making his own return to the Ranger lineup and was moved up by Quinn in the third - he played 5:38 over the first two periods, then 6:22 of the final frame - picked up his assist after coming on for Kreider on the fly.

"Buchy was playing well and I thought he earned that opportunity," Quinn said.

The Rangers as a team earned the two points on Thursday night, and now they'll settle in for some home cooking over the next 10 days - five games at Madison Square Garden, beginning on Saturday night against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

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