NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The way the line of Mika Zibanejad, Chis Kreider and Mats Zuccarello is going, the New York Rangers still have a shot at the playoffs
Zibanejad capped his second career hat trick with the winning goal with 4:36 to play and the Rangers overcame an early two-goal deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Thursday night.
The win was the fifth in seven games and it pulled New York within eight points of Columbus for the second wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference with 32 games to play.
“We can’t look too much at the standings right now,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 19 saves. “We have to take every game as an opportunity to get better and we will see where we are at the end.”
The Rangers chances of overcoming the odds will improve if Zibanejad’s line continues to flourish.
Zibanejad also had an assist on Kreider’s goal and Zuccarello had three assists, including the backhand pass that set up Zibanejad’s backhand winner. The line had eight points.
“It’s just clicking for us right now and it’s good to see Zuc back and I’m super happy,” Zibanejad said after hitting the 20-goal mark for the season. “But again, it’s the whole, like with Kreider’s skating as well.”
The line has recorded 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in the last six games which all three players were in the lineup, and 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in the last four games which all three players were in the lineup, dating back to Jan. 15.
Zibanejad has eight goals and three assists in his last five games.
Rangers coach David Quinn talked to Zibanejad earlier this season when the pucks were not going in.
“We talked about how when goals come, they come in flurries and they’re coming at a snowstorm rate for him right now which is good for us,” Quinn said. “The way Kreids and Zuc are playing that line has been dominant.”
Nico Hischier, Marcus Johansson and Egor Yakovlev scored for New Jersey, which has lost seven of 11 games. Keith Kinkaid finished with 21 saves.
“Losing is tough,” said veteran Brian Boyle, who had a last-minute tip stopped by Lundqvist. “There was some self-inflicted stuff but it’s always disappointing. This was a big one. This was a big game for us. I think we had pretty good control of it but we’re still a work in progress.”
Kreider gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead early in the third period with a shot from the right circle that Kinkaid should have stopped. Yakovlev got his second career goal after being set up by Johansson between the circles less than a minute after Kreider scored.
The winner came after the Rangers controlled play in the Devils’ zone for more than a minute and got the puck to Zibanejad.
Zibanejad got his first on a deflection with two seconds left in the first period to cut the Devils lead to 2-1. It came five seconds after Johansson was penalized for interference. His 19th goal came with 3:24 left in the second period when he one-timed a Zuccarello pass into the top corner of the net.
Hischier gave New Jersey the lead with a shot from the left circle 5:10 after the opening faceoff. Johansson made a head-first dive to poke a loose puck into an open net.
NOTES: Devils placed D Sami Vatanen on injured reserve with a concussion sustained Monday against Pittsburgh. D Eric Gryba was recalled from Binghamton (AHL) but did not play. … Rangers F Brett Howden is going to be out 3-4 weeks with a sprained knee. He was hurt Tuesday against Philadelphia. … NHL MVP Taylor Hall missed his 15th straight game for the Devils with a lower body injury. He resumed skating on Sunday. … Yakovlev spent more than 30 seconds on his knees in front of Kinkaid after his skate blade broke late in the first period. … Lundqvist played in his 841st game for the Rangers, tying him with Vic Hatfield for seventh in franchise history.
Rangers: At Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
Devils: At Montreal on Saturday.
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