NEW YORK – Nikolai Zherdev had a goal and an assist, and the New York Rangers moved into a sixth-place tie in the Eastern Conference by defeating the Minnesota Wild 2-1 on Tuesday night.
Zherdev gave New York its seventh straight 1-0 lead when he beat the first-period clock and then helped set up Scott Gomez’s second-period tally that snapped a tie and sent the Rangers (39-27-8) to their eighth win in 11 games. They are tied with Pittsburgh, five points ahead of ninth-place Florida, with eight games remaining.
Henrik Lundqvist, who took the 2-1 loss to Ottawa on Sunday, bounced back with a relatively easy effort against the defensive-minded Wild. New York outshot Minnesota 30-19.
Marian Gaborik, who scored five goals against Lundqvist and the Rangers in the teams’ last meeting on Dec. 20, 2007, lifted the Wild into a 1-1 tie. It was Gaborik’s first goal since returning Sunday from a 38-game absence following hip surgery.
The Wild, below the playoff cutoff line in the West, lost ground in the opener of a four-game road trip – falling for the third time in five games. They will need Gaborik’s offence to help offset the loss of captain and leading scorer Mikko Koivu, who will be out at least a week due to a knee injury sustained Sunday.
Gomez made it 2-1 when he took a pass in the slot from Sean Avery and one-timed in his 16th goal at 2:24 of the second, 53 seconds after Gaborik tied it with his fourth of the season in only eight games.
The Wild had nearly as many fights in the first period as shots. Minnesota, held to three shots, got into a pair of scraps just over two minutes apart late in the frame.
Avery got tangled with Cal Clutterbuck in front of the Wild net and dropped the gloves with his Minnesota counterpart. Both players removed their helmets, with Avery dramatically spinning his onto the ice, before they engaged in punches.
It was Avery’s first fight since rejoining the Rangers earlier this month.
Rangers enforcer Colton Orr took on 37-year-old forward Owen Nolan soon after, following a big collision in open ice. Nolan seemed reluctant at first to take on the heavyweight, and Orr was given an extra penalty for roughing. Minnesota’s power play was wiped out 22 seconds later when Antti Miettinen went off for interference.
That set up 4-on-4 play and created skating space in Minnesota’s trap, leading to Zherdev’s goal that was a product of patience.
Zherdev’s shot was stopped by Niklas Backstrom, but Zherdev gained the rebound near the left post. Backstrom was down on his right side as Zherdev waited with the puck on his stick. As Backstrom waved his gloved hand in the air, trying to provide a miniature golf-like impediment, Zherdev calmly waited for an opening and found a small one under the goalie’s arm with 4.4 seconds left in the first.
Notes: Nolan, in his 17th NHL season, wore the captain’s ‘C’ in Koivu’s absence. LW Peter Olvecky, scratched Sunday against Edmonton, took Koivu’s place in the lineup and earned an assist. … Rangers D Mike Sauer made his NHL debut, filling in for D Michal Rozsival, who is expected to miss seven to 10 days due to an injured left leg.