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Rangers, short on defense, snap four-game losing streak with win over Flames

Rangers players crowd around after a power-play goal

Rangers players crowd around after a power-play goal by Kevin Hayes began the scoring in the first period on the way to a 4-3 victory over Calgary at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

A day after Rangers management essentially said the team is committed to making changes to help the franchise long-term rather than pushing for the playoffs, coach Alain Vig neault and his troops refused to wave the white flag.

“I’ll tell you what I told my GM, what I told my president, what I told my owner: I’m going to try to win every game. That’s what we have to do as a group,” Vigneault said before a skeleton crew of Rangers — including two defensemen, Neal Pionk and John Gilmour, making their NHL debuts — rallied in the third period to edge the Calgary Flames, 4-3, Friday night at the Garden to snap a four-game losing streak.

With the Rangers trailing 3-2 after two periods, Rick Nash, a leading candidate to be traded, scored his 17th goal at 6:41 of the third. Then J.T. Miller found Mika Zibanejad open at the back door and he beat Mike Smith for the Blueshirts’ second power-play goal at 12:41.

“I believe we’re a goaltender getting on a roll [away from being] back in the hunt and back into the playoffs,” Vigneault had said.

Enter Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist, who relieved starter Ondrej Pavelec to start the second period after the backup injured his knee, made 28 saves and was spectacular in holding the lead late. His robbery on Mikael Backlund’s point-blank try drew a standing ovation.

Kevin Hayes was called for tripping with 1:32 left, making the final minute tense. But the Rangers held on.

“I think we understood the importance of the game and that we’re not out of it [the playoff hunt], no matter the circumstances. There were some new faces who played some strong minutes for us,” Miller said. “This might help everybody relax. When it goes that long without going great, you need one like this to get some confidence back.”

As it turned out, goalies were a story line all evening.

Controlling the first period with quickness and passing, the Rangers took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Hayes, who scrapped at the goal mouth for a loose puck and put it past Smith at 7:53. But Flames defenseman Brett Kulak, who hadn’t scored all season, wound up from the left circle and beat Pavelec glove side at 18:15.

In came Lundqvist.

Michael Grabner’s shot deflected off Mark Giordano past Smith at 11:52 of the second period for his 22nd of the season, but Curtis Lazar split Nick Holden and Tony DeAngelo and bore down on Lundqvist, whose poke check failed. The puck trickled through his pads at 12:37 for Lazar’s first goal of the season.

The Flames took the lead when, with Steven Kampfer off for tripping, Dougie Hamilton’s point shot was deflected in by Matthew Tkachuk at 18:27.

“We’ve been losing a lot of one-goal games when we were one play away, one goal away, one save away from getting points,” Lundqvist said. “Tonight we got that goal, got that save in the end. We are right there [three points out of a playoff spot]. We start from zero, we try to get in. A lot of good teams are going to miss the playoffs. You have to stay humble about that.”

New York Sports