The Rangers and Flyers were deadlocked early in the third period in latest commencement of hostility between the Atlantic Division rivals.
The scene demanded a leading man. Enter Rick Nash.
“There’s no question when you make a deal like that, you add to your top players and you add to your skill level. It’s just a really good deal for us,” head coach John Tortorella said after Nash’s two third-period goals were the difference in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Flyers Tuesday night at the Garden.
“You get big plays like that in the third period [and] you win a hockey game.”
Ryan Callahan scored two goals in the first period and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves. The Rangers have won three in a row and passed the Flyers for eighth place in the conference. The Rangers have 27 games remaining in this abbreviated season.
“[These] are huge games,” Dan Girardi said. “It’s time to string some wins together. If we keep winning we’ll just keep climbing in the standings, and we have [games in hand] on a couple teams. It’s a busy month, but we have to make sure we’re real sharp in our game.”
Callahan and Nash are now tied with Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin for the team lead in goals with seven each. All of Nash’s goals have come in the third period of games.
Last night was no exception, as Nash’s game-winning goal 2:50 into the third broke a 2-2 tie. The play began with Lundqvist making a pad save on a Luke Schenn wrist shot. Girardi cleared the puck to Nash, who carried the puck into the Eighth Avenue end of the ice before wristing a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov (16 saves). The goal was Nash’s third in as many games.
His second goal of the game, nearly nine minutes later, gave the Rangers a two-goal advantage they would not relinquish.
“It would be nice to get them early but when they aren’t coming in bunches, you will take them any way you can get them,” Nash said, “not worry when they come.”
The specialty teams were both a boon and a curse last night. The Rangers went 1-for-4 on the man advantage to bolster a group that had been 6-for-27 in the eight games prior to last night. Callahan’s first goal of the game opened the scoring 1:30 in. His second goal, with 40.2 seconds left in the period, tied the game at 2-2.
On the down side, the penalty kill units surrendered two goals on three power plays. Both goals occurred in the first period, as Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 1-1, 7:18 into the match, and Jakub Voracek’s 10th goal of the season gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead at 17:07.
Entering the game, the Rangers had killed 32-of-34 power plays in the previous 11 matches.
“Their power play was hot,” Lundqvist said. “They were picking us apart in the first period.”
The win was not without cost as the Rangers lost Marc Staal midway through the third period after he was struck on the right eye with the puck. Staal went down immediately and clutched at his face as blood pooled on the ice.
Tortorella did not have an update on Staal’s condition after the game. To a man, the Rangers used the word “scary” to describe the injury to Staal.
The game became chippy in the final minutes. Following a check into the Rangers bench, Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell punched Micheal Haley to set off a melee . After the fracas, Hartnell and Stu Bickel each received 10-minute misconduct penalties.
“He just came into the bench and he didn’t like it, I guess,” Haley said. “It was pretty quick. Maybe he doesn’t like me.
“Things happen pretty quick.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.