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Jimmy Vesey scores shootout goal to help Rangers beat Predators

New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash (61),

New York Rangers right wing Rick Nash (61), left, celebrates his goal with center Kevin Hayes (13) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Photo Credit: AP / Sanford Myers

NASHVILLE — Jimmy Vesey’s homecoming showcased more resentment than a politically divided Thanksgiving. Don’t expect that sentiment to change anytime soon.

Vesey, who was drafted by the Predators and notoriously spurned them to play the free- agent market, came to Nashville for the first time in his NHL career and scored a shootout goal in his first career attempt to lead the Rangers to their second straight win, 2-1, on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said of Vesey: “He did a good job. He’s a mature — I don’t even want to say kid — he’s an older guy. It’s not easy to come in like this . . . and not try to do too much to just show everyone. He played a smart game.”

Lundqvist, who made 31 saves, stopped the Predators’ Ryan Johansen and Craig Smith in the shootout and the Rangers scored on both of their shootout attempts. After Vesey’s top-shelf wrister, Mats Zuccarello sealed the win when he slid a backhander under Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros (26 saves). Zuccarello, a shootout specialist, improved to 16-for-33 for his career.

Alain Vigneault said of Vesey going first in the shootout: “It wasn’t at all about rubbing it into Nashville . . . This morning, after we came off of morning skate, our guys said to me that Jimmy took three shots on the shootout and he scored all three.

“There’s no doubt that as far as hostile environments for him, out of all the places, this was probably the most challenging. Like I said, I don’t even think it bothered him one bit.”

Vesey, who was greeted with boos and derogatory chants every time he took the ice, gave fans every reason to keep hating him.

Said Ryan McDonagh, “I think most people would say you kind of relish it. Obviously, it’s a unique storyline for sure . . . I think it’s just great that he stayed calm out there, composed.”

The Rangers also got another strong performance by Rick Nash.

At 7:47 of the first period, Nash was at his vintage best. After taking a pass from Kevin Hayes, he shook two skaters down the ice and finally beat out Petter Granberg to finish with a meticulously placed top-shelf snap shot to Saros’ short side to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Mike Fisher eventually tied it when his unassisted wrister with 10:38 left squeaked past Lundqvist.

The Rangers went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and haven’t allowed a power-play goal in their last six games and 17 of their last 22 games.

Said McDonagh, “After you’ve been together a handful of games, you start getting good reads, good chemistry with your forward pairs and your ‘D’ pairs, and I think we’re just doing a good job of keeping them on the run when there’s an opportunity and, if not, keeping them real tight, keep them on the inside.”

Said Lundqvist, “I think as a group, we’re comfortable and confident in situations like this . . . This was a pretty good test, two games on the road . . . It wasn’t pretty at times, but we found a way.”

New York Sports