Rangers score 4 straight in 4-1 win over Senators
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OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Derek Stepan felt as though he shed a huge weight.
The U.S. Olympic center broke a 13-game goal drought and added two assists in the New York Rangers' 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
"It's a big relief," Stepan said. "I don't know, for whatever reason throughout the year you go through these little dips and valleys and you have to find a way to just get through it.
"It's like the old saying of getting a monkey off your back."
Scoring a goal will help Stepan's game, but he was quick to point out that the two assists were just as important.
"It definitely helps with confidence," said Stepan, who hadn't netted a goal since Dec. 20. "Confidence is a tricky thing in this sport. When you seem to find a little bit of it you have to try to build off that momentum."
The Rangers have won of five of six to help their playoff positioning, and New York is looking to continue to improve during its best stretch of the season.
"We've been talking about it as a group that points for the rest of the year are huge," Stepan said. "This one was no different."
Marc Methot scored the lone goal for the Senators (21-19-9), who received 26 saves from Craig Anderson. Ottawa had an eight-game point streak snapped (6-0-2) and fell to 1-3-2 at home in afternoon games.
The last time the Senators won at home in the afternoon was Nov. 9 against the Florida Panthers. That was also the last day that Ottawa was in a playoff spot.
"I don't know what it is," Senators forward Clarke MacArthur said of the daytime woes. "To even talk about it is just an excuse. We have to be ready. The other teams come in here ready at 2 so we have to find a way to be better."
Giveaways proved costly for the Senators as the Rangers turned two into goals.
"It happens to all of us once in a while," Methot said. "Unfortunately, it happened a few times."
Zuccarello took advantage of a turnover by Chris Phillips near center ice and broke in alone on Anderson. He caught Anderson moving to make it 4-1 with 3:10 left in the game.
While the Senators were managing to hold on despite sluggish play, Stepan's goal late in the second proved to be the back-breaker.
With 11.5 seconds remaining, Erik Karlsson went to pass the puck back behind his net but he put it directly on Stepan's stick. Stepan beat Anderson short-side to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead heading into the intermission.
"It was a momentum swing for sure," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "Instead of getting out of the period down one, you're down two. It gives momentum to the other team going into the room, and now you have to work even harder coming out of the room to start the period to get something going."
MacLean said he didn't feel any need to talk to Karlsson because a mistake that blatant is sure to have an effect on any player.
Earlier in the second, Nash scored his 12th of the season when he took a pass from Stepan, came in alone on Anderson, and put a shot in under the crossbar that quickly bounded back out of the net.
"It was a great play by Stepan," Nash said. "The puck rolled on me a bit, but you'll take them any way you can get them."
Ottawa grabbed a 1-0 lead when Methot scored his fourth goal - tying a career high, but the Rangers tied it with a power-play goal midway through the first period.
With a two-man advantage, Stepan made a cross-crease pass to Richards, who scored high past a kneeling Anderson for his team-leading 13th goal.
Richards has nine points in his past eight games.
"We started the game well and set ourselves up for a good hockey game," Karlsson said. "We just couldn't pull through for 60 minutes. We were a little bit too sloppy with the puck making plays."
The game marked the first of three meetings between these teams this season. Ottawa had won five straight overall against New York, including the last three at home.
NOTES: Nash has five goals in seven games. ... D Patrick Wiercioch, D Joe Corvo and LW Matt Kassian were scratched for the Senators. RW Chris Neil returned to the lineup after missing six games because of a lower-body injury. ... D Justin Falk was a healthy scratch for the Rangers. ... Lundqvist, who had made six straight starts, is expected to return to the net on Sunday when the Rangers host Washington.
Updated January 18, 2014