NEW YORK (AP) — After a dreadful start to the season, the New York Rangers have finally caught up to the pack thanks to their strong play at home.
Mats Zuccarello scored twice, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots and the Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 Saturday night for New York’s 10th win in its last 11 on home ice.
Jimmy Vesey, Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes also scored for the Rangers, who are 15-6-0 — including 11-2-0 at Madison Square Garden — after opening the season with one win in eight games (1-5-2).
“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole,” said Rick Nash, who had two assists. “We have bounced back well but when you are underneath that line and you are chasing those teams, points are hard to come by. . Last night was a tough loss, it was a good bounce back tonight.”
New York, coming off a 4-2 loss at Washington on Friday night is sixth in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind fifth-place Pittsburgh for Eastern Conference’s last wild-card spot and five behind division-leading Columbus.
Damon Severson and Miles Wood scored for New Jersey, which lost its second straight to a Metropolitan opponent. Keith Kinkaid finished with 34 saves.
“I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance at all,” Kinkaid said. “Hopefully this is a wakeup call. We’re going into tough buildings against tough teams. You can’t slide in the Metropolitan Division. We have to figure it out.”
With the Rangers leading 2-0 halfway through the second period, Severson pulled the Devils within one with a slap shot that beat Lundqvist with 6:15 to go.
However, Severson made a costly turnover while New Jersey was on a power play, leading to Zuccarello’s short-handed tally less than three minutes later. It gave Zuccarello at least a point in seven of the last nine games.
“We had good speed, real energy, and created a lot of good chances,” Lundqvist said. “You can see why the Devils have a good record. They are a fast team and they have some really good forwards. They are a little tricky to play against but I thought we did a really good job. We scored at the right time to grab the momentum of the game. Overall it was a strong game.”
Zuccarello made it 4-1 when J.T. Miller found the diminutive winger with a cross-ice pass at 6:21 of the third.
Wood scored 13 seconds later to pull the Devils within two goals. Defenseman Will Butcher picked up his 17th assist, good for second in the league amongst all rookies.
Hayes recorded his sixth of the season at 11:59 of the third period when he lifted a backhand past Kinkaid to cap the scoring.
Lundqvist earned his 419th career victory, passing Tony Esposito for the second-most wins by a goalie with one franchise in league history. Former Devils goalie Martin Brodeur holds the record with 688.
Vesey opened the scoring at 6:14 of the first period. The second-year forward has played up-and-down the Rangers’ lineup but started the game on the fourth line. Boo Nieves forced a turnover in the offensive zone and then Paul Carey set up Vesey for the opening goal. Carey extended his point streak to four games.
New York doubled its lead when Fast got his seventh at 9:42 of the second. Nash made a brilliant backhand pass and found Fast all alone in the slot.
“I have always thought of him as a hardworking, two-way hockey player,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Fast, who has scored six goals in eight games. “He is definitely one of our guys that plays the right way in all situations. He’s a real good example, he never gives up on a play, he will put his body on the line to get the job done. I am hoping that’s going to also rub off on a couple of other guys.”
Shortly before that, Zuccarello saved a goal on the other end of the ice as the Devils came within inches of tying the score. Brian Gibbons’ shot got through Lundqvist but Zuccarello was able to swipe the puck out of the crease before it rolled across the goal line.
NOTES: Miller’s assist extended his points streak to five games. … Rangers C Mika Zibanejad missed his fifth consecutive game due to a concussion and has skated on his own three of the previous four days. However, he has not been cleared for practice yet. … New York scratched D Steven Kampfer. … The Rangers are 14-5-3 over the last 22 games against the Devils, dating back to March 19, 2013. … It was the 10th time the Rangers’ Kevin Hayes and the Devils’ Jimmy Hayes played against each in the NHL. Kevin Hayes has won eight of the 10 meetings against his brother. … Devils scratched D Dalton Prout, D Steven Santini and F Drew Stafford.
Rangers: Host Dallas on Monday night.
Devils: Host Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
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