Derek Stepan's short-handed goal snapped a tie with 2:48 to play and the New York Rangers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Monday night in Eric Staal's much-anticipated debut.
Mats Zuccarello also scored and Antti Raanta made 26 saves in giving the Rangers their 13th win in 18 games (13-4-1). Henrik Lundqvist's backup denied Cam Atkinson on the doorstep with less than a second remaining to preserve the victory.
Atkinson scored his 20th goal of the season and Joonas Korpisalo had 22 saves for Columbus, which finished 7-3-3 in February.
Stepan gave the Rangers the lead on a partial breakaway while Eric's brother, Marc Staal, was in the penalty box. Raanta made it stand up with a pad save on Atkinson just before the final horn. Columbus put in the rebound but it came after time ran out.
Eric Staal was the initial focus of this game, one day after the Rangers acquired him from Carolina for prospect Aleksi Saarela and two second-round draft picks.
The 31-year-old Staal, who the Rangers hope will provide scoring for another Stanley Cup run, was cheered almost every time he touched the puck in the early going. He started out centering the third line and played left wing on the first line in the third period. He had one outstanding scoring chance, a second-period shot from the left circle that Korpisalo hugged to his chest.
While Eric Staal had the attention of the Madison Square Garden crowd, the game turned out to be a tight-checking affair in which the goalies were the best players, although Stepan and Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh made the biggest play in the game.
After the Rangers totally shut down a Blue Jackets power play, McDonagh chopped the puck out of his zone and Stepan collected it at the Columbus blue line. He skated in on Korpisalo, gave him a pump-fake with his leg and then cut across the crease to put the puck in an open net.
Raanta nursed a 1-0 lead into the third period until Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi made a horrible cross-ice pass at the point that Atkinson intercepted, giving him a clear run at the net.
Raanta stopped the initial shot but Atkinson slammed home the rebound to tie it.
Minutes later, Korpisalo denied Kevin Hayes on a breakaway.
The Blue Jackets outshot the Rangers 13-8 in the first period and had the better of play, but they trailed 1-0 thanks to Zuccarello.
Playing what seemed to be consecutive shifts, he took a pass from Dan Boyle, circled the net and banked in a shot off the skate of Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout for his 21st goal of the season.
NOTES: This was the first time the Rangers had brothers in the lineup since Chris and Peter Ferraro on March 7, 1997, at Anaheim. ... Columbus captain Nick Foligno played in his 600th NHL game. ... Rangers forward Jesper Fast was out with the flu, so defenseman Dylan McIlrath skated on the fourth line as a right wing. He also got into a second-period fight with Jared Boll. ... This was the Blue Jackets' fifth game in eight days. ... Boyle picked up his 599th career point on Zuccarello's goal.