Desperate for points at home after losing two straight games on the road, the Rangers had a plan against the Ottawa Senators, who were playing their third game in four days.
Grind, get pucks out of their zone, cash in on opportunities.
That strategy worked Sunday night as the Rangers responded with a gritty 3-0 victory that lifted their record to 10-9-2.
The scenario heading into the third period was familiar to the Rangers. They were tied 1-1 after two periods in Chicago on Wednesday and finished the second period down 1-0 in Columbus on Friday, but both games slipped away from them in the third. This one ended differently.
The Rangers went ahead 1-0 on Kevin Hayes’ goal at 4:46 of the second after some strong work along the boards by Jesper Fast. Then Michael Grabner, from between the circles, tipped Marc Staal’s wrister past Craig Anderson, who was screened by J.T. Miller, at 4:52 of the third for the two-goal edge. Former Senator Mika Zibanejad scored his 10th into an empty net from his own blue line with 2:29 left.
It was the teams’ first matchup since the Senators ousted the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs last spring.
“It was the game we expected from them. They’re a team that clogs up the neutral zone,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were able to get a lead on Hayes’ goal, and the tip at the start of the third was big for us.”
The Rangers had to battle shorthanded after Brendan Smith drew a questionable five-minute major for interference. In a chase for the puck, he shouldered Mark Borowiecki, who lost his balance and slammed into the end boards. Smith was given a game misconduct at 7:32, but the penalty-killers, led by Rick Nash and Brady Skjei, outworked the power play, allowing only one shot on goal.
That helped Henrik Lundqvist, who made 20 saves for his second shutout of the season. It was the 63rd of his career and one of the easiest, thanks to a strong defensive effort.
“The key tonight was definitely the penalty kill,” which held off the Senators for a total of nine minutes, Lundqvist said. “Tonight the focus and determination was there from the first period. We had good scouting reports going into the game, and we executed exactly the way we wanted to. Patience is key, and it helps when you get the lead.”
After a scoreless first period, Hayes whipped his fifth of the season past Anderson for the first Rangers goal in more than four periods. Fast, who worked the puck along the wall before flipping a backhand pass to Hayes, received the primary assist and Jimmy Vesey got the second. Mats Zuccarello had assists on both third-period goals.
“Everyone was sacrificing themselves,” Zuccarello said. “This is the way we need to play — limit their chances, play safe, get pucks deep.”
Ottawa, which lost to Arizona on Saturday, was a step quicker to start the game but couldn’t score on two early power plays.
The Rangers had the two best chances while shorthanded. With Smith off for slashing at 4:28, Nash poked the puck away at center ice and sped down the left side on a two-on-one. He fed Hayes, who passed back to him darting to the left post. But the puck rolled on end, and Nash’s tip from about 10 feet went wide.
After Kevin Shattenkirk skied the puck into the crowd for a delay-of-game minor at 7:17, Boo Nieves had a long shot denied and then skated through a loose rebound in the crease.
With 3:24 left, Lundqvist made the save of the game, sliding left to right to smother Mike Hoffman’s snap shot.