NEW YORK – Mats Zuccarello got the New York Rangers off to a fast start and they cruised to a crucial win against the Ottawa Senators.
Zuccarello had a goal and an assist in the first period and the Rangers went on to a 4-1 victory Tuesday night that cut the Senators' lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. Michael Graber, Rick Nash and Oscar Lindberg also scored, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots.
Looking to avoid falling into a 0-3 series hole and with the home crowd buzzing from the singing of the national anthems, the Rangers came out aggressive from the start. They outshot the Senators 15-5 in the first period while building a 2-0 lead.
"We played a solid first period and we came out strong," Zuccarello said. "I think that we set the tone right away."
The Rangers have won three straight playoff games at Madison Square Garden after losing six straight on home ice, including Game 3 of the first round against Montreal.
"There's no doubt we played a strong game," New York coach Alain Vigneault said. "We were able to score a couple, get early pace and we were able to bring it home and win the game."
Zuccarello got the crowd fired up when he got the Rangers on the scoreboard 5:31 into the game. Mika Zibanejad brought the puck up the right side, came around the back of the Ottawa net while fighting off a defender and sent a pass in front to Zuccarello, who fired it past goalie Craig Anderson for his 11th career playoff goal.
Grabner made it 2-0 with 6:36 left in the opening period. Zuccarello sent the puck along the boards on the left side behind the Ottawa net and Grabner beat Anderson and defenseman Ben Harpur to get it. He then came out and put in a wraparound before Anderson could recover.
"I was just trying to get it deep," Zuccarello said. "It was a lucky play and a good job by him, reading it and stealing the puck there."
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who had four goals in Ottawa's 6-5 double-overtime win in Game 2, scored again for the Senators, and Anderson finished with 26 saves.
"The game was lost in the first period," Senators coach Guy Boucher said. "They were ready, they were hungry, they were desperate and we didn't match that at all, that's it."
Game 4 is Thursday night.
Ottawa came out with more intensity in the second period, getting the first three shots of the period. The Senators had a 12-9 advantage on shots in the middle period but fell further behind.
Lundqvist, who leads all goalies with 289 saves in the playoffs, made a nice stick save in the opening minute of the second on Pageau, and both goalies made some nice stops through the middle of the period to keep the score 2-0.
"We didn't give up that much," Lundqvist said. "It felt like we were in control for the most part and played a really smart game. ... I think everybody felt like we played a really strong game when we needed it the most here."
Nash then increased the Rangers' lead with his 15th career postseason goal — third this year — with 7:39 remaining in the middle period. After Senators defensemen Erik Karlsson and Harpur collided near center ice, Derek Stepan brought the puck down the middle and passed it to Nash, who fired it past Anderson from the left circle.
Lindberg made it 4-0 with 1:43 left in the period. J.T. Miller fought off a defender along the left side, skated in toward the net and passed it to Lindberg, who fired it over the glove of a sliding Anderson from the right side.
That gave the Rangers a goal from each of their four lines.
"That's huge, especially in the playoffs you need every line kind of going," Nash said. "Tonight we had that and it was obviously a difference maker."
Pageau then spoiled Lundqvist's shutout bid just 32 seconds later as he got a backhanded pass from Bobby Ryan from behind the net and scored his sixth of the postseason.
"They obviously played with a lot more desperation than we did from the start of the game," Karlsson said. "We just couldn't catch up at the end of the day. They started better and that's why they won this game."
The Rangers have won at least one game in 21 straight postseason series since being swept by New Jersey in the first round in 2006, setting a franchise record. The previous mark of 20 was set from the quarterfinals vs. Boston in 1970 to the quarterfinals vs. St. Louis in 1981.
NOTES: Zibanejad's assist on Zuccarello's goal was his team-high seventh point this postseason. ... The Rangers have scored first in each game this series. ... New York is outscoring its opponents 12-4 in the second periods this postseason. ... The Senators' first eight playoff games this postseason were all decided by one goal.
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