With Rick Nash out indefinitely and Ryan Callahan out for at least another three weeks, the New York Rangers badly needed someone to step up and replace the lost offense. Against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night it seems as if the Rangers might have found that offense from two players who the Rangers needed to take the next step forward, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin.
Hagelin put the Rangers ahead 2-0 with two beautiful goals including one on a breakaway created by his penalty coming to an end and grabbing the puck out of the box and burying it through the pads of Justin Peters. That was his second of the game. His first came on an even prettier backhander that caught Peters off guard.
However, it was Derek Stepan going off for his first three goals that were the most encouraging. Stepan had been creating chances for other players with his passing but had not had any luck finding the back of the net. That streak of bad luck ended at the 15:54 mark of the second period. He would find the net two more times in the third period to put the game out of reach and give the Rangers the 501 victory.
The Rangers needed this kind of game. While they had won their previous two games, including a 2-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, they had won with defense more than an offense that pounded the opposing zone and put the puck on the net. This time they were able to combine a solid forecheck and aggressive offense to score a season-high five goals.
This is the way the Rangers need to play if they hope to advance deep into the playoffs. This is the kind of game the Rangers have been capable of playing but for one reason or another haven’t been able to prior to tonight.
The Rangers will continue to lean on Stepan, Hagelin, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider to fill the void left by the absences of Nash and Callahan. Kreider and Zuccarello each pitched in offensively with three assists each on each Stepan goal. It was exactly the kind of night the Rangers needed and it was a team effort that got the job done.
Although he didn’t score, Kreider had a few good chances in his six shots on goal and contributed on offense and opened up the ice for Stepan to create some offense. This was the kind of game Rangers fans have been looking for and was the perfect reminder that there is still a ton of talent in the 22-year-old winger.
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for the Rangers and not just a fleeting moment. Right now, it is hard not to like what the Rangers are doing.