Fourth line carries Predators past Rangers
NEW YORK -- The Nashville Predators came to Madison Square Garden mired in a five-game losing streak in which they scored just seven goals. They snapped their skid and solved their offensive problems by getting goals from an unlikely source.
Nashville's checking line of Paul Gaustad, Matt Hendricks and Rich Clune accounted for three goals -- one by each player -- and combined for seven points to lead the Predators past the struggling New York Rangers 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Nick Spaling opened the scoring for the Predators (14-14-3) and Nashville's fourth line, affectionately known as the Wagon Line, did the rest, giving plenty of support to Carter Hutton, who made 28 saves in his first start in a month.
"I've been happy with the way our line has played. We have tons of O-zone time," Clune said. "We get so much time on the forecheck and cycling pucks, you want something to drop sooner or later. Especially when you're not winning."
Rick Nash scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 22 shots for the Rangers (15-16-1), who fell to 0-2-1 on their franchise-record nine-game homestand that continues Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Spaling's goal at 13:45 of the opening period put Nashville ahead, and the checking line doubled the lead at 17:52. With the Rangers a step late on the backcheck, Hendricks made a perfect saucer pass to a streaking Clune, who went to his backhand and beat Lundqvist .
"Hendricks made a great play. He doesn't get enough credit for his hands," Clune said. "He made a great sauce pass and laid it in for me. I just tried to power around Henrik's pad. Fortunately there was some space between Henrik's pad and the post."
Clune's goal was the game-winner and his first goal since March 28, a span of 32 games.
"I was a third-round pick once upon a time," he joked. "I was going to go upstairs under the bar but I thought I'd just keep it simple."
The goal came less than four minutes after Spaling opened the scoring. After tangling with Spaling at the side of the net, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh lost his balance and appeared to be hurt behind the net. With McDonagh out of the play, Patric Hornqvist fed a soft pass in the slot to Spaling, who beat Lundqvist for his fifth of the season.
McDonagh didn't miss a shift, but the Rangers did lose captain Ryan Callahan, who left midway through the first period following a collision in the corner with Nashville defenseman Victor Bartley and did not return. The team said after the game that Callahan suffered a second-degree sprain of his MCL in his left knee and will be sidelined four to six weeks, marking the third time this season he will miss time due to injury.
"It's been a tough stretch for him and we all feel for him," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "Everyone has to step up a little more. He brings a lot to the team. Someone's going to have to find a way to step up for him."
Lundqvist made his biggest stop of the night with New York down 2-0 in the second and Carl Hagelin off for tripping. Matt Cullen's power-play slap shot from the left circle appeared headed for the top corner, but Lundqvist made a glove stop 4:47 into the period.
That gave the Rangers a chance to get back into the game, which they did when Nash beat Hutton at 6:38. Derick Brassard carried the puck into the Nashville zone before leaving a drop pass for Brad Richards at the blue line. With the Predators defense frozen, Richards found Nash streaking for the net. Nash went backhand-to-forehand before sliding the puck into the open left side of the net for his sixth of the season.
"Nash is a pretty good player," Hutton said. "He makes you look pretty stupid when he gets spread out there. He's got that long reach."
That line appeared energized following the goal and proceeded to carry the attack, accounting for all five of New York's even-strength shots in the second period. But the Rangers failed to muster much offense as the game wore on.
"We got beat by a team that plays a real structured game," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We need to find ways to win."
New York opened the third pressing for the equalizer. But Nashville's fourth line came up big again early in the period. Gaustad drove down the right wing toward the net, Clune shoveled the loose puck towards the center of the crease during a scramble and Hendricks knocked it into a wide-open net at 2:38 for his second of the season.
"We did a pretty good job until they scored the first goal," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "They had a little push there but we were able to stabilize that as the period went on. When we got the third goal, that was huge for us."
Gaustad hit the empty net with 1:06 remaining to finish the night with three points, doubling his total for the season.
Exactly one month to the day since his last start, Hutton was sharp early, as he stopped and smothered a hard wrist shot by Michael Del Zotto from the left circle 62 seconds into the game. He also got some help from his defense, which kept the Rangers from registering their next shot for 9:03.
Brian Boyle appeared to have a wide open net with 8:10 remaining in regulation when Hagelin's shot was blocked following a Hendricks giveaway. But Hutton recovered and snared Boyle's shot with his glove.
"Especially not playing in a while, you want to get some shots and feel good. I think I did a good job tonight of handling the puck. For me, that's a way of establishing my game," Hutton said. "Going into the third, you knew they were going to come. Getting that extra goal was huge. From there, we kept them outside and we didn't give up a lot of second chances."