ST. PAUL, Minn. — Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has said his star players have to step up if his team is going to succeed this season.
But he’ll take goals from unlikely sources, too.
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Brady Skjei and Oscar Lindberg gave the Rangers the lead and Antti Raanta made 25 saves Saturday night as the Rangers defeated the Minnesota Wild, 3-2.
The win moved the Rangers within four points of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division with 10 games left. If they finish in fourth place (first wild card), the Rangers will play the Atlantic Division winner in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers flew to Minnesota immediately after Friday night’s home shootout loss to Florida. A predawn arrival time isn’t ideal for any road team, but Vigneault liked how his players fought through it to beat one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
“You’ve got to play your four lines, you’ve got to play your six D,” Vigneault said of nights like these. “We got contributions from our fourth line, our kids, tonight. They came out and played a real good game. We grinded it out and got a greasy road win.”
Minnesota struck first on a goal by former Ranger Eric Staal midway through the first period. After a sluggish start in which the Rangers allowed the Wild to carry the pace of play, the Blueshirts found their legs and joined the fight.
They got a lift from the penalty kill, which generated the best scoring chance for either team on Minnesota’s second power play. Jesper Fast found himself alone in the slot on a shorthanded break, but Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk stacked his pads to deny Fast’s shot.
That seemed to energize the Rangers, however, and they dominated play the rest of the first period. They eventually tied it on Skjei’s fourth goal of the season with 3:59 left in the period.
With the Rangers set up in Minnesota’s zone, Mats Zuccarello fed a cross-ice pass to Skjei, whose one-timer from just above the right faceoff circle beat Dubnyk.
“They started real hard, but we were able to get by that first hard wave that they threw at us,” Vigneault said. “After that, I thought we played solid both offensively and defensively. We got some good looks, and when we had a few breakdowns, Antti made some good saves.”
Raanta, making his fifth straight start in place of the injured Henrik Lundqvist, kept Minnesota off the board in the second period, and his teammates crashed the net and scored twice.
J.T. Miller dug a puck out of the corner and fired a blind pass into the slot, where Lindberg was ready to bury it at 7:46 for his sixth goal.
“I just knew they had a lot of guys in the corner,” Miller said. “I figured the middle of the ice was open. I didn’t realize [Lindberg] was that close to the net. I figured high slot, but it was lucky to go right on his tape.”
Then Jimmy Vesey pounced on the rebound of Lindberg’s shot, beating Dubnyk at 17:34 for a 3-1 lead going into the second intermission.
All Minnesota could manage in the third period was Matt Dumba’s power-play goal at 4:51 as Raanta stood tall in the net.
“I was just trying to concentrate on the next shot, and it worked out really good today,” Raanta said. “The whole team was playing great in front of me, so great . . . two points for us.”