The New York Rangers showed on Sunday the kind of hockey they are hoping to consistently display come playoff time.
Backup goaltender Cam Talbot stopped 26 shots for his third career shutout and Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello each scored a pair of goals as the Rangers won their sixth game in their last seven outings, defeating the second-last place Edmonton Oilers 5-0.
Derek Brassard also scored for the Rangers (42-30-4) who had two short-handed goals in the game to move two points up on the Philadelphia Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
“On some nights you need some bounces and we got a couple tonight,” said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. “Our penalty killing gave us two big goals tonight, which was good to see.
“We hadn’t played as well as we would have liked defensively in (a 4-3 loss to) Calgary on Friday. We were a lot better tonight.”
Centre Derek Stepan, who had three assists in the game, agreed with his coach.
“We tightened it up and moving forward we have to play that way because the points are so big,” said Stepan. “We have played a good defensive game over the last few weeks and that is what is going to lead to our offence and help us win.”
Nash said it is important that his team ramps it up down the stretch as they hope for a strong playoff run.
“We have kind of a mini-playoffs right now just to get in,” he said. “We are looking at every game as a must-win right now. You look at the teams that have success in the playoffs and it is usually ones that are playing well going in.”
The Rangers tied their franchise record for road wins with 24 this season.
The Oilers (26-40-9) have lost four of their last five games.
Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said a team can’t surrender two short-handed goals in a game and expect to have any success.
“It’s something that can’t happen,” he said. “We’ve given up the most short-handed goals this season and it’s something that we can’t afford to do. Whatever the reason, I think we’re a little overzealous and want to help guys out, but at the same time we have to be more cautious.
“Teams are trying to capitalize on the penalty kill, they don’t just dump it out every time. We have to be aware of that and it’s something that we have to be better at for sure.”
It was the ninth time this season that the Oilers have been shut out.
“A lot of people say we’re a team that can score goals, but if you look at goals for in the league, we’re not even in the top 15,” said Oilers forward David Perron. “We can’t cheat to make plays and sometimes we’re guilty of that and that shows right away against teams that play the right way.
“We sure weren’t generating anything. I don’t think there was a minute in the game that we wanted. It was pretty embarrassing to play like that.”
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins echoed Perron’s sentiment, noting that the lack of offence on his team is something the organization will hope to address in the off-season.
“There is a misconception about this team,” he said. “This is not a high-powered offensive team. It’s not. The history over the last four or five years knows that. We have to find a way to manufacture some offence and it’s something that we’re going to have to look into this summer as we add and subtract.”
Edmonton goalie Ben Scrivens kept it scoreless seven minutes into the game with a huge kick save after Nash split the defence to go in alone on the power play.
New York took a 1-0 lead with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the opening frame as Zuccarello tipped in an Anton Stralman shot on a play that Scrivens argued involved a high stick. It was reviewed and stuck as Zuccarello’s 16th of the season.
The Rangers almost had a two-goal lead two minutes later as a puck got behind Scrivens, but the goaltender was able to fish it to safety during a mad scramble in front of the net before it crossed the goal-line.
The visiting team had eight first period shots, while the Oilers only mustered three on Talbot.
New York took a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second period on the power play, on Brassard’s knuckler of a shot form the sideboards that seemed to catch Scrivens off guard.
The Rangers made it a three-goal advantage with 11 minutes left in the second period as Nash threw a hopeful backhand from behind the goal-line in front and it hit Scrivens and went into the net to count as Nash’s 24th goal of the season.
New York continued to dominate as they made it 4-0 with seven minutes left in the second period on a short-handed two-on-one break with Nash converting a pass from Stepan.
The Rangers upped their lead to 5-0 on another short-handed goal four minutes into the third period as defender Philip Larsen overcommitted to covering Stepan. He was able to earn his third assist with a feed to Zuccarello in front of the net for his second goal of the night. It was the 13th short-handed goal the Oilers have allowed this season.
Both teams return to the ice on Tuesday as the Rangers play the third game of a four-game trip in Vancouver and the Oilers take their final three-game road trip of the season, starting in San Jose.
Notes: It was the second and final meeting between the two teams this season. The Oilers won the first match-up 2-1 on Feb. 6 as Scrivens made 35 saves at Madison Square Garden. a The Oilers may be in second-last in the NHL, but they came into the game with a winning record against Eastern Conference teams, sitting at 14-13-4 before the loss. a Rangers forward Martin St. Louis has yet to score in his 14 games with New York since being traded there for Ryan Callahan and two draft picks. a Rangers forward Daniel Carcillo returned from a bout with the flu. ... Remaining out for New York were defenceman John Moore (concussion) and forward Chris Kreider (left hand). a Out for the Oilers were forwards Ryan Jones (knee) and Nail Yakupov (ankle), and defenceman Andrew Ference (chest).