Derek Stepan's goal, two assists key Rangers' win over Senators

Rangers' Derek Stepan celebrates his second period goal Rangers' Derek Stepan celebrates his second period goal with John Moore. (Jan. 18, 2014) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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OTTAWA -- Derek Stepan didn't exactly sigh, but he sure was relieved.

Stepan had a three-point game Saturday, including his first goal in 13 games, as the Rangers defeated the Senators, 4-1, for their fifth win in six games.

"It's a big relief," said Stepan, who has eight goals and 22 assists and was selected to the U.S. Olympic Team. "For whatever reason, throughout the year, you go into these little dips and gullies and you have to find a way to just get through it."

The center capitalized on a giveaway by Erik Karlsson down low, firing a wrister past a surprised Craig Anderson with 11.5 seconds left in the second period for a 3-1 lead.

"It definitely helps your confidence," said Stepan, who denied that he tricked Karlsson by calling for the puck. "It's a tricky thing in this sport. You find a little bit of it and you've got to try to build on that momentum."

Stepan helped create the momentum after the Rangers fell behind 1-0 in the first period. After coming out of the penalty box into a five-on-three by the Rangers, Stepan skated to the right of Anderson and fed a cross-crease pass to Brad Richards, who scored on a high shot at 9:50 to tie it.

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In the second, Stepan sprung Rick Nash with a lead pass off the boards that Nash called for and collected in stride. Nash beat Anderson with a far-side, top-shelf bullet from the right circle at 12:45.

"Step's a big part of our offense," coach Alain Vigneault said, "and for his confidence, I'm hoping it's going to be real good. He's been working real hard."

The entire squad worked hard in front of Cam Talbot. Making only his second start in goal in 11 games, he was fronted by an aggressive team defense and faced only 14 shots in the first two periods in lifting his record to 10-3.

"It felt like we had the puck the first two periods. That was a big part of it, our backcheck. Our forwards came back really hard," Marc Staal said.

The Senators pushed in the third period, and Talbot -- who had last started in a 7-1 victory in Toronto on Jan. 4 -- had to turn back 16 attempts.

Mats Zuccarello scored with 3:10 to play for the Rangers, who had scored only once in each of their previous two games.

The Senators hadn't lost in regulation in eight games, but the Rangers (26-21-3) moved to 15-10-0 away from home. They host the Capitals Sunday night.

"We played a real smart road game," Vigneault said, "managed the puck well, eliminating any transition . . . We took a good team's offense and we limited them to just a couple scoring chances" in the first two periods.

The afternoon belonged to Stepan, whose season began when he missed training camp in a contract dispute.

"Obviously, you want to score goals," said Stepan, who had 18 in the 48-game season last year. "I've had a couple good looks but wasn't able to find the back of the net. Tonight I was fortunate enough to find it."

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