PHILADELPHIA -- If there was any question left as to the identity of the Rangers' No. 1 center -- or the No. 1 line -- it should be erased.
Derek Stepan, in his third season on Broadway, had a goal and three assists and Rick Nash scored twice as the Blueshirts knocked off the Flyers, 5-2, last night at Wells Fargo Center to open a three-game road trip. Carl Hagelin, the left wing on that line, added an assist for a very productive night for the trio. In eight games that the threesome has started together, the Rangers are 7-1-0.
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"We wanted to try and change some things,'' said coach John Tortorella, who has watched his squad score just two goals or fewer in six of the previous seven games. "I consider that our top line. They've probably been our most consistent players this year.''
But 1:14 later, Nash curled around the left post behind Ilya Bryzgalov and slid the puck into the far side to restore the two-goal margin with his team-leading 12th.
"I haven't seen four [on the scoreboard] in a long time,'' said Lundqvist, who made 31 saves.
It turned out to be five as Chris Kreider buried Michael Del Zotto's feed for the final tally at 12:13.
With the win, which was Tortorella's 400th as a coach, the Rangers (16-13-3) held on to eighth place in the East with 35 points, two ahead of the Islanders and with a game in hand, and two behind the seventh-place Devils, who were idle and have played one more game.
For the third time this season, and the first time since Feb. 10, the Rangers scored five times.
"You get five as a team and everybody feels a little looser, next practice, we'll notice the difference right away,'' said Brad Richards, who scored his first in eight games on a high, right-point slap shot during a power play at 3:14 of the second for a 2-0 lead. Stepan, with his second assist, ladled the puck to Richards for the one-timer.
"It lets a little sigh out,'' said Richards, who also had an assist. "You can't take your foot off the pedal, but it's nice that we realize that we can do that.''
In the second period, Stepan's goal, his 10th of the year, a backhander off a rebound of Nash's shot into a half-open net at 5:46, gave the Blueshirts a three-goal bulge. With three minutes left in the period, Brian Boyle was sent off for roughing Scott Hartnell, and Wayne Simmonds kicked in a rebound during a scrum at 17:53 and the period ended 3-1.
Nash, Marian Gaborik and Richards started on three separate lines and Nash opened the scoring, taking a pass from Stepan on the left boards and firing from between the circles at 14:54. The puck whizzed over Bryzgalov's right shoulder for his 300th goal of the right wing's career.
"In 20 of our 31 (games), we've been chasing,'' Tortorella said before the game, citing the times the Blueshirts had fallen behind 1-0.
"It was good to get that first one,'' Nash agreed. "We're working on better starts and coming out stronger.''