The hard work has paid off. With a hat trick against a former nemesis, Chris Kreider has gone from the doghouse to the penthouse.
Kreider, who never could get in the good graces of former Rangers coach John Tortorella, scored a hat trick and Cam Talbot continued his terrific run with 35 saves Saturday as the Rangers spoiled Tortorella's return to Madison Square Garden with a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
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"As always, I'm not talking about the other team's players," said Tortorella, who demoted Kreider to the minors several times. "I have enough problems with my own."
Kreider insisted that there wasn't any extra motivation or satisfaction in scoring three times against his former coach's team. "It's two points and an opportunity to win at home," he said. "It would have been nice to have one or two of those goals in Boston [a 3-2 loss on Friday]."
The left wing, who did not make the club out of training camp, is the first rookie to score a hat trick for the Rangers since Derek Stepan on Oct. 9, 2010, in Buffalo. He is second on the club in goals and has 16 points in 20 games since being recalled from AHL Hartford, where Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said his game noticeably improved.
Vigneault's decision to change lines and put Stepan between Kreider and Rick Nash worked wonders in the Rangers' first game against Tortorella, who was fired seven days after Vigneault was dismissed by the Canucks last summer.
Nash had a goal and two assists, and the line had eight points and 12 of the 24 shots taken by the Rangers (14-13).
"They definitely opened things up [for me]," said Nash, whose tip for a 3-0 lead chased Roberto Luongo just 17 seconds into the second period.
Kreider opened the scoring, beating Luongo with a stick-side wrister at 12:37 of the first period after being set up by Nash. Kreider added another from the crease, tipping Ryan McDonagh's shot on the power play at 16:54.
Kreider tipped another shot, this time past Eddie Lack, at 9:38 of the third for his sixth goal, and the hats rained down.
"We kind of climbed on Kreider's back and kept going," said Talbot, who has done his share of heavy lifting. The 26-year-old, who took over for Martin Biron when the veteran retired, improved to 6-1-0 with a 1.41 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. He has yet to allow more than two goals in any start.
Talbot, who had posted two consecutive shutouts, stopped the first 24 shots until David Booth cut in front and scored on a nifty backhander at 15:50 of the second with the Rangers ahead 4-0. The home crowd saluted his effort, chanting "Tal-bot, Tal-bot" in his first start at the Garden. "I heard it," he said. "It's great to have the support."
With Chris Tanev off for holding at 9:20, defenseman Michael Del Zotto, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in five of the previous eight games, scored on a slap shot from the right circle for a four-goal cushion.
In all, 10 Rangers had at least a point a day after the loss to Boston, a defeat that left Vigneault cursing and slamming a door after his post-game news conference. But he was smiling Saturday.