NEW YORK (AP) — Rick Nash showed the New York Rangers his clutch, quick-strike ability. Then his potential new teammates displayed the kind of resiliency that has vaulted them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers shook off Nash’s tying goal in the closing minutes of regulation and ended things 22 seconds into overtime when Derek Stepan scored in New York’s 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night.
Stepan scored into a wide-open left side of the net on a backdoor play after Michael Del Zotto faked a shot and hit Stepan with a pass.
The Rangers rebounded from a 4-2 home loss to Chicago on Thursday and avoided their first losing streak since they last dropped two straight on Dec. 13 and 15.
“Our team has had a pretty good maturity level all year long, being able to bounce back in tough situations,” the 21-year-old Stepan said. “It was a good test for us to see if we would bounce back, and I think we did a great job.”
Nash, the Columbus captain who is the subject of trade rumors — including those involving the Rangers — got the Blue Jackets even at 2 with 1:33 left in regulation. That prompted chants of “We don’t want you” from the disappointed Madison Square Garden crowd.
“It’s the kind of reaction you expect in any building after you score the tying goal,” the understated Nash said. “We’re trying to win games. That’s the bottom line. I’m going to do everything I can to help our team win.”
Artem Anisimov snapped a 1-1 tie in the second period for the Rangers (38-14-5), who have won five of six and nine of 12 (9-2-1). They lead second-place Boston by nine points.
“We handled ourselves well,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I don’t think there was any panic, and we make a hell of a play in the overtime to score the winner.”
The Blue Jackets, who lost 6-1 at home to Chicago on Saturday, are last in the NHL with 41 points. Columbus had alternated wins and losses the previous six games. The Blue Jackets are heading into a rebuilding mode, and whether Nash is a part of it remains to be seen as next week’s NHL trade deadline approaches.
Nash declined to say before the game whether he would like to be dealt or if New York is a team he wants to join.
Brad Richards gave the Rangers a first-period lead, and Derick Brassard tied it in the second. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 shots to earn the victory after taking a day off against Chicago.
Steve Mason made 32 saves for Columbus (17-35-7).
“They were all over us right from the start,” Brassard said. “We played last night, and they were working hard. I think they are one of the best teams we’ve played against.”
Anisimov used a fortuitous bounce to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead with 6:47 left in the second. Dan Girardi fired a shot from the right point that sailed high and wide of the net and slammed off the end boards. While Mason scrambled to locate the puck, it kicked back out front to Anisimov, who scored his 11th of the season from just in front of the left post.
Mason was down on his stomach as the Rangers celebrated.
“One of those things — 99 times out of 100 the puck will bounce around the boards,” Mason said. “This rink, the glass is a little bit different.”
For the second straight period, the Blue Jackets spent most of the final two minutes on a failed power play. Columbus escaped danger in the final second of the second when the Rangers appeared to stretch the lead to 3-1.
New York got control of a loose puck in the Blue Jackets’ end, and Del Zotto fired in a shot as the buzzer sounded. The officials huddled around the scorer’s table as a video review ensued in Toronto. Unofficial television replays, that superimposed the dwindling clock against the replay of the goal, showed that the puck entered the net with 0:00.1 seconds left.
However, it was determined in Toronto that time had run out before the puck crossed the line. Referee Don Van Massenhoven was showered with boos when he made the announcement that the official video showed time expired, and those grew much louder when the television replay was displayed on the arena video board.
“It was the correct call,” Tortorella said.
The Blue Jackets had gotten even at 1 at 5:26 of the second, just 5 seconds into a high-sticking penalty against Marian Gaborik. Antoine Vermette won a faceoff in the right circle back to Brassard, who glided along the blue line to the center of the ice and fired a shot through traffic that got past Lundqvist for Brassard’s 11th goal.
Columbus got out of a 5-on-3 jam earlier in the period that lasted for 1:33 when Derek Dorsett and Nash were sent off.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the opening period when Richards took a return pass from Carl Hagelin at the edge of the left circle and sent a sizzling shot past Mason with 2:11 left for his 18th goal.
NOTES: Anisimov has four goals and three assists in his past eight games. … Brassard had gone five games without scoring before he netted the Blue Jackets’ lone goal Saturday against Chicago. … Nash has eight goals and nine points in nine career games against the Rangers. He has 19 goals this season.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)