GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ottawa gave up on 23-year-old Matt Puempel, and the Rangers are glad it did.
The former first-round draft pick in 2011, who was claimed off waivers on Nov. 21, scored his first career hat trick last night as the Rangers finished off the pesky Coyotes, 6-3.
All three goals were scored on the power play, including the game-winner late in the third period.
“I’ve got to wake up from my dream here,” said Puempel, who scored twice on deflections from in front of Mike Smith. “Coming from Kanata, Ontario to New York City, it’s been a real life-changer on and off the ice. I’ve enjoyed every second. I’m just really grateful for this opportunity.”
And what a night for Puempel to break through: His brother Mike was in the stands with a group of players’ siblings, who were on the two-game trip courtesy of the team.
With the score tied at 3 late in the third period after the Coyotes rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, Martin Hanzal went to the box for holding, and Puempel redirected Ryan McDonagh’s shot at 14:40 for his second goal and fourth as a Ranger.
“It was definitely closer than we’d like to have it,” said J.T. Miller, who scored an empty-netter. “Then Pumps tips one in to relieve a little pressure. I played against him in juniors a lot, he’s a really skilled and talented player. He’s on the power play for a reason.”
Puempel, who had missed five games with a concussion in mid-December and was in the spot formerly held by injured Rick Nash on the power play, finished the trick with 17 seconds left on another redirection. “Great shot by Mac,” said Puempel.
“He’s working extremely hard,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “There’s no doubt that he’s got an offensive knack, he knows where to go and I hope a game like tonight will give him more confidence.”
In all, the Rangers (25-12-1) were 4-for-7 with the man-advantage, the first time they had scored four times in six years, and in nine years during a road game. “Guys were moving the puck really well, and we were trying to find shooting lanes,” said Antti Raanta, who made 19 saves as the Coyotes (11-20-5) dropped their sixth straight.
After the third Coyotes goal, on a stellar give-and-go from Radim Vrbata to Toby Rieder at 7:32 of the third, “we focused again and started to get pucks deep,” said Raanta, who was subbing for the second straight game with Henrik Lundqvist out with the flu.
Raanta had not faced the Coyotes as a Ranger, but was 3-0-1 with a 1.47 goals against average and a .957 save percentage against Arizona with Chicago.
It was Coyote Ugly for the first half of the opening period. Power-play goals from Puempel, whose pass hit Alex Goligoski’s stick and went past Smith at 2:24, and Nick Holden, his third goal in the last two games on passes from Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller at 8:01, put the Rangers ahead.
The Coyotes trimmed the lead in half after Dan Girardi’s icing. Christian Dvorak’s shot from the top of the right circle hit Brady Skjei in front and bounced past Raanta at 15:16.
At 1:13 of the second, Chris Kreider’s deflection of Holden’s shot restored the two-goal lead. It was Kreider’s 12th of the season and fourth in the last five games. Holden’s assist was his 20th point. But it wasn’t until Puempel stepped up that the Rangers put away the Coyotes.