COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Rangers got back on the right track. Barely.
After consecutive shutout losses to the Islanders and Bruins, they rebounded with a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets Friday night.
No. 1 center Derek Stepan, who missed Thursday night's 3-0 loss to the Bruins with an upper-body injury, returned and made a difference, setting up shots on the power play and assisting on second-period goals by Marc Staal and Chris Kreider.
"A very calming influence when he has the puck out there," captain Ryan McDonagh said of Stepan. "Seems he makes a smart, solid play every time he has it. Nine times out of 10, he can get the puck in the right hands. I know he wasn't feeling the best, but he's a gutsy player."
Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled after the second period in a 3-0 loss to the Islanders and backed up Cam Talbot in Boston, made 35 saves, including several on redirections, and wasn't beaten until 3:16 of the third period.
After Sergei Bobrovsky stopped Rick Nash, Ryan Johnasen sprung Scott Hartnell with a long pass. He ripped a laser past Lundqvist's raised glove, bringing the Blue Jackets within one goal. But the Rangers, who focused on defense and had only two shots in the period, hung on.
Lundqvist had a strategy for handling traffic in front of the net. "My being aggressive is not coming out of the net, but tracking the puck and playing on my toes," he said. "It was good for me to get a good start. They deflected a lot of pucks, some I didn't see, but I had a feeling."
Staal, who has agreed to the framework of a six-year contract extension, scored his second goal of the season when his shot from the slot trickled under Bobrovsky's pad at 5:59 of the second period. It was the first goal for the Rangers (25-13-4, 54 points) in a span of 146:59, dating to Nash's empty-netter with a minute to play in San Jose.
Kreider didn't waste any time in adding to the lead. He sped past Dalton Prout in the neutral zone, cut across and backhanded the puck past Bobrovsky at 10:10 for his ninth goal of the season.
"I thought there was some good energy tonight on the back-to-back," Stepan said. "Confidence is kind of fragile, it comes and goes. When you have it, you've got to keep it."
Said Lundqvist: "We have two more games to play [before the All-Star break]. There's nothing to save it for."
Notes & quotes: Kevin Klein appeared to score on a tip with 1:26 left, but after a review, it was ruled that his stick was above the crossbar . . . Tanner Glass had his second bout in two games, dropping the gloves with Jared Boll, and Kevin Klein scrapped with Jeremy Morin . . . J.T. Miller, whom Alain Vigneault said had some difficulties with and without the puck Thursday when he stepped in for Stepan at center, was a healthy scratch for the first time in nine games. When asked if Miller is more comfortable on the wing, Vigneault said, "Without a doubt." . . . The NHL suspended Bruins forward Brad Marchand for two games for slew-footing Derick Brassard on Thursday.