After the first three shifts of the Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line Saturday night, Alain Vigneault had seen enough. The Hurricanes spent those shifts in the Rangers' zone, and the coach sat them down for eight or nine minutes.
"I challenged them and I liked the way they responded," Vigneault said after Stepan scored a hat trick in the Rangers' 5-1 victory over Carolina at Madison Square Garden.
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The Rangers earned their third straight victory and had a season high in goals. The Hurricanes have lost five straight.
Stepan's first goal came on a power play late in the second period. Zuccarello and Kreider each had three assists as their line totaled nine points.
"Out of the last three games, I think this was one of my slower starts," Stepan said after scoring his first three goals of the season. "It's funny how that works. We didn't get hurt by it, and we get a big goal from Carl," referring to Carl Hagelin, who scored the first two Rangers goals.
Stepan, a playmaking center, and Hagelin, a left wing blessed with the speed that Vigneault loves, missed camp and are starting to find their form.
Stepan was out in a contract dispute that ended just before Opening Night in Phoenix, and he has admitted that his conditioning and timing weren't where they needed to be.
Hagelin was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery; it was his third game since coming off long-term injured reserve. "When he scores the way he does tonight and backing down their defense the way he does, it's so important to the team having success," Vigneault said.
Hagelin, who has three goals and six assists in seven games against Carolina, used his speed to get free for shots that beat Justin Peters, who faced 38 shots.
Hagelin opened the scoring, breaking across the blue line on the left side, cutting to the middle and, with Benoit Pouliot near the left post, sliding a backhander past Peters at 8:26 of the first.
On his second goal, Hagelin sped out of the penalty box, where he had been sent for hooking, and snatched a long rebound that Peters sticked to his left near the boards. He darted to the net and scored between Peters' pads for a 2-0 lead at 8:16 of the second.
"At first I was hoping for a breakaway, then I saw [Taylor] Pyatt taking a slap shot," he said. "I was going to forecheck and the puck was lying there perfectly."
Thanks to Henrik Lundqvist, who made nine saves in the first period when his team started slowly, the two goals were all the Rangers needed. "Hank, in my mind, was the best player on the ice," Vigneault said. "He permitted us to find our legs and a little bit of rhythm."
When Stepan corralled an uncontested rebound in the left circle on a power play and beat Peters over his right shoulder at 15:54 of the second, the Rangers went up 3-0.
When the Hurricanes put some solid shifts together in the third period, Lundqvist stopped Jordan Staal and Andrej Sekera, who had scored late in the second, to preserve the two-goal cushion. Stepan finished Zuccarello's pass from behind the net at 9:09, then beat Peters with 5:23 left, and hats rained down on the Garden ice.