CALGARY — Rick Nash’s bounce-back season continued Tuesday night, along with the New York Rangers winning streak.
Nash scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season to lead the New York Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames for their fourth-straight win.
Nash is riding a career-best 11-game point streak (eight goals, six assists) that also ties him with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for the longest point streak in the NHL this season. The Rangers are 8-3-0 during that streak to climb back into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. They currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division.
“We need him to play the way he (Nash) is,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We’re no different than any other team in the league. You need your top players to be your top performers and that’s what Rick is doing for us right now.”
Twenty goals in 29 games is a torrid start for Nash, who had just 26 goals in 65 games a year ago.
“Rick Nash is an elite hockey player. He was playing the same way last year. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find the back of the net (as much) but this year he’s been our best player,” said linemate Derek Stephan, who had a goal and an assist.
Nash opened the scoring at 11:22 of the first period on an unassisted goal. After a hard Calgary dump-in rimmed all the way around the end boards and out of the zone, Nash picked up the puck and moved in alone, beating Karri Ramo on a backhand-to-forehand move.
Three minutes into the second period and while killing a penalty, Nash made it 3-0 when he was set up by Stepan on a two-on-one.
“The biggest thing is Stepan’s making great plays and I’m getting lucky with pucks going around the boards. It’s one of those things you don’t want to think about too much when they’re going right,” said Nash, who is tied for second in the NHL with three short-handed goals.
He trails only Los Angeles’s Tyler Toffoli, who has four.
Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin also scored for New York (15-10-4). The Rangers won all three games in their swing through Western Canada.
Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross – with just 1:15 left in the game – scored for Calgary (17-14-2). After a terrific start to the season, the Flames have lost six-straight games in regulation for the first time since Jan. 13-25, 2010.
“It’s so easy when you’re winning to go out there and make things happen when things are bouncing your way,” said Flames centre Matt Stajan. “The real test is when nothing’s going your way and you’re in a funk like we are and this is where we have to step up.”
The losing streak coincided with the return of three key forwards from injured reserve, who had missed six weeks each. Stajan returned in the first game of the losing streak, while Mason Raymond and Joe Colborne returned shortly after.
“It hasn’t been the easiest of weeks for us,” said Stajan. “We’ve gone from being at the top of the mountain to being under water. We have to find a way here.”
A key sequence in the game came in the final minute of the first period with the Rangers up 1-0 and on the power play.
Lance Bouma on a rare four-on-two rush and Josh Jooris on a dangerous two-on-one were both stopped by New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
With time running out in the period, Mats Zucarello raced the puck up the ice and fired a long slapshot that Ramo handled easily. But with the puck lying at his feet, Ramo was expecting Kris Russell to clear it away and instead the Flames defenceman shoved it back towards Ramo and before the Flames goalie could cover it, Kreider stuck his stick in and knocked the puck into the net.
“Karri has to freeze it,” Hartley said.
“He had the puck in front of him and the referee made the right call. That puck was loose so they came in and they whacked it in.”
The stunning goal at 19:52 resulted in a frustrated Ramo gesturing with his trapper in the direction of Russell.
“At that time, it’s probably one of our best penalty kills of the season. We generated three great scoring chances, they didn’t get a sniff. They get that gift and that hurt us because right now, we’re fragile,” said Hartley.
After Stepan made it 4-0 at 11:15 of the second on a wrap-around, Hartley pulled Ramo, who had faced 13 shots.
It was the second consecutive tough start for the 28-year-old, who falls to 8-5-1 this season. In his previous start, he gave up four goals on 19 shots in Buffalo.
Lundqvist finished with 29 saves to improve to 13-7-3. He’s given up a total of only two goals in his last three starts.