DETROIT — Derek Stepan keeps grinding.
When the Rangers have needed him in the last month, Stepan has produced.
In the last 15 games, the 25-year-old Minnesota native, who was named to the U.S. team for the World Cup of Hockey in September, has scored four game-winning goals and has 14 points (7-7), including the opening goal of the game on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.
Stepan pickpocketed Danny DeKeyser as the Red Wings forward tried to skate out of the defensive zone and after goalie Petr Mrazek stopped linemate Chris Kreider’s shot but couldn’t control the rebound, Stepan pounced and put the Rangers up 1-0 at 19:11.
His 16th goal extended his point streak to four games (two goals, three assists), and he has a point in six of the last seven (three goals, four assists). He also made a terrific play in keeping the puck in at the blue line, knocking down a clearing attempt that led to Kreider’s power-play goal, putting the Blueshirts ahead 2-1 with 4:27 left in regulation.
Unfortunately for Stepan, he was on the ice when Brad Richards tied the score at 2 with a two-man advantage.
“I thought we were doing a good job defending after the power play, but 6-on-4 situations are tough,” said Stepan. “They have two extra guys out there and you have to do your best to cover as much ice as you can. They took a shot that bounced off a guy in front and Richie hit the back pipe. ”
In a game where the Rangers managed just 25 shots on Mrazek, Stepan led the lineup with six.
Rebounding after the 3-2 loss here won’t be easy, especially with fewer than 20 hours between Saturday’s finish and Sunday’s home start against the Penguins, who, like the Red Wings, are fighting for a playoff berth.
“It’s certainly a thing you don’t see too often,” Stepan said, “a 2-something start and then 12:30 with Daylight Savings Time . . . but we don’t have much of a choice at this point. We have to find a way to get it done. Those two points are huge for us at this point. We’re going to need as many as we can get down the stretch.”