For one night, at least, the Rangers held on to a third-period lead.
Derick Brassard scored the go-ahead goal 5:46 into the third and Chris Kreider added an empty-netter with 1:48 left to give the Rangers a 4-2 win over the Wild on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
With the score tied at 2 early in the third, the puck squirted out from the right wall, where Ryan McDonagh was battling to keep the play alive, and J.T. Miller flipped a touch pass to Brassard, alone in front. He went to his forehand and beat Devan Dubnyk with a low shot near the post.
Miller and McDonagh had scored in the second period to rally the Rangers, who trailed 2-0 at the end of the first.
With that lead in the final period, all the Rangers had to do was score again or hold on. It had not been easy recently. Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Devils was the eighth time in the last 28 games that they had lost after being tied or leading in the third.
“You want to focus on not allowing teams to have time and space,” McDonagh said. “Once we got that lead, we had back pressure and stayed on our checks.”
Referring to maintaining the lead, Derek Stepan said: “You have to stay on your toes. If you sit back, there’s too many teams in this league who will take advantage. One of our strengths that we’ve always had is our forecheck. That’s defense, 200 feet from our net. One of the things we did a good job on was jumping on pucks. Our Ds were active and we stayed aggressive.”
The Rangers (28-18-5) held onto second place in the Metropolitan Division with 61 points.
The game began with an unfortunate start for Marc Staal. Ryan Carter blocked Staal’s shot from the right point at the Wild blue line, raced down on a breakaway and beat Henrik Lundqvist (16 saves) stick side at 2:09. Staal then went off for interference at 6:08 and Matt Dumba’s one-timer from the top of the left circle went under a half-kneeling Dylan McIlrath and through a screened Lundqvist at 7:57.
“I have to step up. I have to be better [early in the game]. That was my first thought,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a lot of basic routine saves, then maybe one or two scoring chances where I have to make the difference. In the first, I was unable to do it, but in the third, I came up with a couple.”
He added, “We all felt the first one was a bad bounce and the second was on their power play. Our speed was there, the energy was in the room. Then we came out in the second and played really well.’’
The Rangers, playing without injured Rick Nash and Kevin Klein, came out in the second transformed, first killing off the last 40 seconds of a Wild power play and then scoring twice in 1:20 to tie the score at 2.
From behind the Wild net, Stepan found McDonagh in front, and the captain somehow kept the puck on his stick in traffic and slammed it through a prone Dubnyk at 3:15. Said Brassard, “From that moment on, we played pretty well and didn’t give them much.”
Then the red-hot Miller scored his eighth goal in eight games when he ripped Brassard’s pass through the slot to the right of Dubnyk past his far side. Shots were 8-0 in favor of the Rangers to that point, and the visitors, who were on a 1-7-1 skid, were scrambling.