NEW YORK, N.Y. – Rick Nash’s mere presence in the New York Rangers’ lineup indicated he was over the injury woes that sidelined him for four games.
His play on the ice proved it.
Nash had a goal and assist Thursday night in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over slumping Tampa Bay, but the most telling stat was that the star forward registered a whopping career-high 12 shots on Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon.
New York had lost all four games (0-3-1) that Nash missed as he recovered from what is believed to be concussion symptoms. He showed no ill effects in helping the Rangers end their skid in dominating fashion.
“He played really well,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “He’s such a good one-on-one player with his range and his reach.”
Those talents were on display all night, and culminated in his third-period goal at the end of an odd-man rush that closed the scoring.
Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan scored in a one-sided first period, and defenceman Marc Staal added just the eighth power-play goal of the season in the second period for New York. The suddenly healthy Rangers won the second game of a four-game homestand and completed a three-game, season-series sweep of the Lightning.
“We have to get streaky,” Nash said. “I think if we just build momentum off of tonight and carry it into the next one … we were doing a lot of good things, so I think we’ll be fine.”
That wasn’t the feeling across the hall in the dressing room of the Lightning, who lost for the fourth time in five games and are 3-9-1 in the past 13.
New York held a 20-3 shots advantage after the first period, 35-11 through two, and 42-25 overall.
“I don’t really know what to say,” said star Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, who had a six-game goal streak snapped. “Guys aren’t competing hard enough, and they wanted it more than us.
“It’s getting to a point where it’s embarrassing. We talk about work ethic, but it’s not there right now.”
The Rangers were bolstered by the return of not only Nash but defencemen Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto. New York moved one point ahead of Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Nash assisted on Staal’s goal and then netted his fourth with 1:33 remaining to give him a five-game point streak. McDonagh had two assists, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots.
Garon made 38 saves, and Martin St. Louis scored Tampa Bay’s lone goal in the first period. Stamkos had an assist to stretch his points streak to eight, but Tampa Bay fell out of a tie with Carolina for the Southeast Division lead.
“It’s embarrassing,” defenceman Victor Hedman said. “Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We put ourselves in this position.
“They were outbattling us, outshifting us, outworking us. We did a little better in the third, but it was too little, too late. They still played better than us.”
The Rangers carried a 2-1 lead into the second, but had to be shaking their heads they weren’t ahead by more following their most dominant period this season.
“They are such an opportunistic team. I was worried,” Tortorella said. “I thought we played really well, but it was still just 2-1.”
New York stormed to an early two-goal lead that was cut in half, despite the Rangers tying a season high with 20 shots in the first and allowing a season-low three.
“It was just one of those games. They deserved to win and we didn’t deserve anything,” Hedman said.
Hagelin started the scoring 7:23 in after he made a slick move to get free from defenceman Keith Aulie. Hagelin shifted at the left point as Aulie slid in front of him and crashed into the side boards. That gave Hagelin space to glide into the circle, and he fired a slap shot that beat Garon for his seventh goal.
The Rangers struck again 1:17 later when Stepan netted his fourth. Passes by defenceman Dan Girardi and captain Ryan Callahan set up Stepan in front for a quick, hard shot that he seemed to know was heading in when he let it go.
Tampa Bay got within 2-1 with 3:51 left on its second shot. The Lightning, who entered as the highest-scoring team in the NHL with 70 goals, added to their total when St. Louis got behind Nash for a perfect redirection in the slot off a drive by defenceman Eric Brewer.
Stamkos has seven goals and seven assists in his scoring streak—his second eight-game point run of the season. His best shot at a goal came midway through the third when his one-timer was stopped by Lundqvist.
The Lightning outshot New York 14-7 in the final period.
“We played good in the third,” Boucher said. “That was our team in the third period. The first and the second—just awful.
“You can’t win on the road or at home if you show up in the third period.”
NOTES: Stamkos has points in 17 of 20 games. … The Rangers also had 20 shots in the first period against Washington on Feb. 17. Their previous low for shots allowed in a period this season was four, done twice. … The first-period shot totals were also the most allowed by the Lightning this season and the fewest they have recorded. … Lightning C Cory Conacher had a six-game point streak snapped, the longest run by an NHL rookie this season. … Tampa Bay, 3-6 on the road, began a four-game trip.