RALEIGH, N.C. - With some advice from linemate Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello scored the lone goal of the shootout as the Rangers beat the Hurricanes, 3-2, last night.
Zuccarello, who set up J.T. Miller for the goal that tied the score at 1 in the second period, hasn't scored in 13 games, but he deked Anton Khudobin for the shootout winner.
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"He used to use that move all the time until they figured it out and he stopped, but I told him in practice to use it again," Brassard said.
"Yeah, he gets an assist," Zuccarello said.
The Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers (97 points) maintained their five-point lead over the Islanders, who beat the Devils on Saturday night. The Blueshirts have three games in hand on the Isles.
The game kicked off a challenging stretch for the Rangers (44-18-7), who face six games in nine days.
In the first round of the shootout, Elias Lindholm missed high and Cam Talbot stopped Riley Nash and Jeff Skinner as the Rangers swept the Hurricanes 5-0 in the season series. Kevin Hayes was stopped by Khudobin in the second round.
Talbot is 14-3-3 since replacing the injured Henrik Lundqvist. He said of stopping Skinner, "I just kind of threw my stick out there, hoping he would make a move he didn't want to make . . . He tried to shovel it blocker side and I got a pad on it. I've been stopping a lot of breakaways throughout the games, so I'm a little more comfortable in the shootouts."
Despite the win, the big guns were silenced again, and goals by Jesper Fast and Miller in the second period and some stellar saves from Talbot in the third period weren't enough to stave off overtime. With Carl Hagelin in the box for tripping, Ryan Murphy's shot through traffic on the power play with 5:33 left in regulation tied it at 2.
Trailing 2-1, the Hurricanes charged hard in the third period with 17 shots and the Rangers' defense finally wilted. With just under 13 minutes left in regulation, Talbot stopped Nathan Gerbe's tricky backhander with his blocker. Victor Rask almost tied it when he hit the post. Talbot then stopped Eric Staal in close with 9:43 left. But the Hurricanes kept coming.
"They had a real strong push and they were tough to handle," Alain Vigneault said.
The Blueshirts fell behind early. Just 2:01 in, a kneeling Talbot allowed Lindholm's slap shot to slide through his pads for a 1-0 lead.
"I thought I got a big piece and looked back and the puck was across the line,'' he said. "Never easy when a goalie puts you behind the eight-ball like that," Talbot said.
After Fast missed an open net in the crease off a pass from Hagelin, Miller tied the score at 3:39 of the second period with his eighth of the season on a set play. Fast's fourth goal of the season, which provided a 2-1 lead at 12:59 of the second period, was pretty. Hayes won a battle on the left wall and flung a pass into the slot, which was corralled by Fast, who spun and sent the puck over Khudobin's raised glove.