NEW YORK, N.Y. – A great individual effort by captain Ryan Callahan helped the New York Rangers snap a two-game losing streak, and keep pace in the chase for a playoff spot.
Derek Stepan scored twice, including the go-ahead goal in the third period, as Rangers beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 on Monday night.
The momentum shifted in the Rangers favour long before Stepan put them ahead to stay. It turned when Callahan scored short-handed to tie the game at 2 early in the second period.
“It was a huge play in the game,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “Not only to kill the penalties, but to have the wherewithal to keep the puck and score a big goal like that, I think we took off from there. We took over the game from there.”
Callahan sped into the Winnipeg zone as Mats Zuccarello returned to the ice after New York killed off the first half a Jets 5-on-3 power play. Showing great patience, Callahan first deked a Winnipeg defender, and then goalie Ondrej Pavelec, to the ice before depositing a backhander at 3:11.
“I think anytime you get a short-handed goal, it lifts a team up,” said Callahan who also equaled his single game high with three assists. “Getting that one, we started to get going.”
The win was crucial as it kept the Rangers in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers also kept pace with the New York Islanders, who beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1. Both New York clubs have 37 points, though the Rangers hold the higher seed having played one less game than their metropolitan area rivals.
Rick Nash also scored for New York and Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves.
While the Rangers could breathe a little easier, the pressure is mounting on the Southeast Division-leading Jets following a third straight loss.
Winnipeg got goals from Nik Antropov and Zach Bogosian, while Pavelec stopped 31 shots.
“We have to stop it,” Pavelec said. “We’ve lost three in a row. We could be in trouble. It’s not going to be easy but we have to find a way.”
The Rangers found their way, thanks to Callahan.
“He made a great play and it changes the dynamic of the game,” said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey. “You have an opportunity to go up 3-1. Instead it’s 2-2 off a great individual play. We did a great job at the start, but from that point on, it was the opposite.”
It’s what the Rangers have come to expect from their captain.
“That’s why he wears the ‘C’ on his chest,” Stepan said. “He just seems to get the job done when we need it most.”
Stepan broke the 2-2 deadlock in the third as he pounced on the rebound of Anton Stralman’s shot from the left point and knocked the puck past Pavelec at 5:46.
Nash gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead at 13:07.
The Jets led 2-1 after dominating the opening period.
The Rangers struck first as Stepan slipped behind the Winnipeg defence to beat Pavelec 19 seconds in, New York’s first goal in three games. The Rangers were blanked by identical 3-0 scores in their prior two games in Ottawa and Montreal.
The lead soon evaporated as Antropov, left all alone in the slot, swept Kyle Wellwood’s centring pass between Lundqvist’s pads at 1:15.
Winnipeg took the lead at 12:54 as Bogosian fired a point shot that appeared to deflect of someone before it flew past Lundqvist.
The Jets outshot the Rangers 11-7 in a period where they spent long stretches in the New York zone.
The Rangers were much better in the second period, outshooting the Jets 15-7 after the spark from Callahan’s brilliant short-handed tally.
NOTES: Rangers D Stralman played in his 300th game while Jets LW Evander Kane appeared in his 250th game. … The game was the start of a three-game road trip for the Jets that includes stops in Long Island and Montreal. … The Rangers signed 20-year-old free agent D Tommy Hughes to a contract. He played four seasons with London of the Ontario Hockey League. … With Kris Newbury sent to the minors on Sunday, Rangers C Darroll Powe returned to the lineup after sitting out three games. … Jets D Grant Clitsome suffered a facial cut in the first period when clipped by a stick and did not return.