OTTAWA – Derek Stepan felt like he shed a huge weight Saturday afternoon.
The New York Rangers centre had a goal and two assists in a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators ending a 13-game goal-scoring drought. Stepan’s last goal was Dec. 20th.
“It’s a big relief,” admitted Stepan. “I don’t know for whatever reason throughout the year you go through these little dips and gully’s and you have to find a way to just get through it. It’s like the old saying of getting a monkey off your back.”
While the goal will definitely help Stepan feel better about his game, he said picking up the two assists were just as important.
“It definitely helps with confidence,” said Stepan. “Confidence is a tricky thing in this sport. When you seem to find a little bit of it you have to try and build off that momentum.”
Winners of five of their last six and holding a playoff spot have the Rangers feeling good about their game and they want to continue to improve.
“We’ve been talking about it as a group that points for the rest of the year are huge,” said Stepan. “This one was no different.”
Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello also scored for the Rangers (26-21-3). Cam Talbot was solid in goal stopping 27 shots for his 10th win of the season.
Marc Methot scored the lone goal for Ottawa (21-19-9) as Craig Anderson stopped 26 shots.
The loss put an end to the Senators’ eight-game (6-0-2) point streak.
Ottawa is 1-4-2 on home ice when having to play midday. This one was no different. The last time the Senators won at home in the afternoon was Nov. 9 against the Florida Panthers, which also happens to be the last time they held a playoff spot.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Clarke MacArthur. “To even talk about it is just an excuse. We have to be ready. The other team’s come in here ready at two so we have to find a way to be better.”
Giveaways proved to be extremely costly for Ottawa as the Rangers scored twice on two terrible ones.
“It happens to all of us once in a while,” said Marc Methot of the giveaways. “Unfortunately it happened a few times (Saturday).”
Zuccarello took advantage of a giveaway by Chris Phillips near centre ice and broke in alone on Anderson. He caught Anderson out of position to make it 4-1 New York late in the third.
While the Senators were managing to hold on during the game despite their sluggish play a late goal in the second proved to be the back breaker.
With 11.5 seconds remaining Erik Karlsson went to pass the puck back behind his own net but put it directly on Stepan’s stick. Stepan beat Anderson shortside to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead and disappoint the 19,978 on hand at Canadian Tire Centre.
“It was a momentum swing for sure,” said Ottawa’s coach Paul MacLean of giving up the late goal. “Instead of getting out of the period down one, you’re down two. It gives momentum to the other team going into the room and now you have to work even harder coming out of the room to start the period to get something going.”
MacLean said he didn’t feel any need to talk to Karlsson as a mistake that blatant is sure to have an effect on any player.
Earlier in the period Nash picked up his 12th of the season, as he broke in alone on Anderson and roofed the puck high.
“It was a great play by Stepan,” said Nash. “The puck rolled on me a bit, but you’ll take them any way you can get them.”
Ottawa had gotten off to a decent start with Methot scoring his fourth, tying a career high, to take a 1-0 lead, but midway through the period the Rangers tied it with a power-play goal.
With a two-man advantage Stepan made a cross-crease pass to Richards who went high on a kneeling Anderson.
“We started the game well and set ourselves up for a good hockey game,” said Karlsson. “We just couldn’t pull through for 60 minutes. We were a little bit too sloppy with the puck making plays.”
Saturday’s game marked the first of three meetings between the two teams this season. Ottawa had claimed five straight overall against New York in the regular-season series, including the last three in Ottawa.
Notes: D Patrick Wiercioch, D Joe Corvo and LW Matt Kassian were a healthy scratch for the Senators. RW Chris Neil returned to the lineup after missing the last six games with a lower-body injury. … D Justin Falk was a healthy scratch for the Rangers.