Location. Location. Location.
Sunday night, Carl Hagelin took the old real estate axiom to heart.
"It's being in the right spot a lot," said the left wing, who scored twice and had an assist as the Rangers beat Tampa Bay, 5-1, at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won back-to-back games for the second time and climbed above .500 (6-5) for the first time.
"The puck is going in now, compared to before," said Hagelin, who endured a 36-game drought dating to last season before scoring a goal Feb. 2 at Tampa Bay.
Speaking of location, if Henrik Lundqvist hadn't been in superb position during the first period when the Rangers took a 2-0 lead, "it could've been 3-2 [Tampa Bay],'' coach John Tortorella said. "I really felt the most important part of the game was Hank in the first. He makes some great saves. Six odd-man rushes. Can't happen."
But the Rangers gathered themselves in the second period and slowed down the track meet. They extended a 3-1 lead in the third when Asham snapped home a goal at 12:22 for his first point as a Ranger, drawing a fist pump from Tortorella. Nash scored his third, to go with his first-period assist, with 8.3 seconds left.
"We're starting to see it [coming together]," said Ryan Callahan, who picked off an awful pass by Matt Carle just inside the red line, roared in, deked Garon to his belly and tucked the puck past his leg for a 2-0 lead at 15:13 of the first. "There's still things we need to work on. But altogether, I think we are getting better game by game."
The goalie said he thinks he is "starting to get close to where I need to be. I felt like I wasn't far away, and the last couple games I felt like I did my job."
Having a lead helps -- the Rangers are 4-0 when they score first -- and so does having Nash shoot more, which Tortorella had sought. Thirty-one seconds in, Nash took a cross-ice pass from Dan Girardi, curled off the boards to the slot and fired. The puck deflected off the Lightning's Martin St. Louis, and Hagelin ticked it again from the crease past Garon for the opening goal.
At 9:58 of the second, Hagelin carried the puck down the left side on a rush, came through the circle and beat Garon through the pads, ending the goalie's evening. It was the third two-goal game of the Swede's career, and Marc Staal's assist gave the defenseman four points in the past four games.
Despite beating Tampa Bay twice in eight days, staying above .500 won't be easy. The Rangers have not won three in a row all season, and they travel to Boston to face the 8-1-1 Bruins Tuesday.