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Kreider’s hat trick helps Lundqvist reach milestone in Rangers’ 6-2 win

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, left, pursues the

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, left, pursues the puck to the boards with New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider in the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Denver. Credit: AP / David Zalubowski

DENVER — Henrik Lundqvist didn’t have the start he wanted Saturday night, but he found his footing and played his way into the record books.

Lundqvist allowed two goals in the first period and shut out the Avalanche the rest of the way as the Rangers won their third in a row, 6-2, helped by Chris Kreider’s first hat trick of the season.

Lundqvist (26 saves) recorded his 390th career win to pass Dominik Hasek and become the all-time wins leader for European-born goaltenders. “He was such a big inspiration to me,” said Lundqvist, who returned after missing two games because of the flu. “Growing up, I have posters of him on the wall. It means a lot to me, it really does.”

J.T. Miller bounced back after getting hit hard in the first period to score twice as the Rangers won for an NHL-best 13th time on the road (13-6-0).

Jimmy Vesey scored his 11th goal to finish off the Avalanche. The Rangers are 3-0 against the Colorado/Quebec franchise on New Year’s Eve and have scored six goals in each victory.

Saturday night’s win capped a successful two-game trip out west in which the Rangers scored six goals each night. They lead the NHL with 135 goals in 39 games.

Kreider closed out 2016 with his best game of the season and continued a torrid stretch. He has six goals and two assists in the last four games and finished December with 11 goals.

It was the second straight game a Ranger has recorded a hat trick. Matt Puempel did it Thursday night in Arizona in a 6-3 win over the Coyotes.

Kreider got his goals with plays close to the net.

“It’s kind of feast or famine,” he said of scoring in front of the goaltender. “You want to get there, take the goalie’s eyes away. A lot of times, it doesn’t hit you but it creates a chance, makes it harder on the goalie. Sometimes it hits you and drops there, sometimes it hits you pretty good and knocks you down for a couple of seconds, but occasionally they glance off you and go in.”

The line of Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello has been a nightmare for opponents of late. The trio has totaled nine goals and 13 assists in the last four games, three of them wins.

Kreider scored twice after Colorado took a 1-0 lead on its first shot. His tip of Stepan’s pass from the side boards tied it at 6:09 of the first and he gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 16:39. He notched his third goal when he tipped in Stepan’s shot at 14:20 of the second for a 4-2 lead.

Miller left briefly in the first period when he was hit by defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov was given a minor for interference and Miller returned later in the period. “It knocked the wind out of me,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe, but I was OK.”

He got even with Colorado when he stole a pass near the neutral zone, skated into the Avalanche zone and beat Calvin Pickard with a laser over the goaltender’s glove for a 3-2 lead at 9:30 of the second period. He made it 5-2 at 9:34 of the third with his 12th goal.

Puempel took a hard hit from Cody McLeod at 3:59 of the second and went down near the boards. He skated off and went to the locker room but returned later in the period.

After going 4-for-7 on the power play Thursday night against the Coyotes, the Rangers were 3-for-6 Saturday night. The NHL’s fifth-best power play is 8-for-17 in the last three games.

Said Miller, “The power play is winning us some games, putting the momentum in our favor, whether it’s tying the game or putting us up one.”

New York Sports