By VIN A. CHERWOO
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Mats Zuccarello got the New York Rangers off to a fast start and they cruised to a crucial win against the Ottawa Senators.
Zuccarello had a goal and an assist in the first period and the Rangers went on to a 4-1 victory Tuesday night that cut the Senators’ lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Oscar Lindberg also scored, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 shots.
Looking to avoid falling into a 0-3 series hole and with the home crowd buzzing from the singing of the national anthems, the Rangers came out aggressive from the start. They outshot the Senators 15-5 in the first period while building a 2-0 lead.
“We played a solid first period and we came out strong,” Zuccarello said. “I think that we set the tone right away.”
The Rangers have won three straight playoff games at Madison Square Garden after losing six straight on home ice, including Game 3 of the first round against Montreal.
“There’s no doubt we played a strong game,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were able to score a couple, get early pace and we were able to bring it home and win the game.”
Zuccarello got the crowd fired up when he got the Rangers on the scoreboard 5:31 into the game. Mika Zibanejad brought the puck up the right side, came around the back of the Ottawa net while fighting off a defender and sent a pass in front to Zuccarello, who fired it past goalie Craig Anderson for his 11th career playoff goal.
Grabner made it 2-0 with 6:36 left in the opening period. Zuccarello sent the puck along the boards on the left side behind the Ottawa net and Grabner beat Anderson and defenseman Ben Harpur to get it. He then came out and put in a wraparound before Anderson could recover.
“I was just trying to get it deep,” Zuccarello said. “It was a lucky play and a good job by him, reading it and stealing the puck there.”
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who had four goals in Ottawa’s 6-5 double-overtime win in Game 2, scored again for the Senators, and Anderson finished with 26 saves.
“The game was lost in the first period,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “They were ready, they were hungry, they were desperate and we didn’t match that at all, that’s it.”
Game 4 is Thursday night.
Ottawa came out with more intensity in the second period, getting the first three shots of the period. The Senators had a 12-9 advantage on shots in the middle period but fell further behind.
Lundqvist, who leads all goalies with 289 saves in the playoffs, made a nice stick save in the opening minute of the second on Pageau, and both goalies made some nice stops through the middle of the period to keep the score 2-0.
“We didn’t give up that much,” Lundqvist said. “It felt like we were in control for the most part and played a really smart game. … I think everybody felt like we played a really strong game when we needed it the most here.”
Predators 2, Blues 1
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James Neal scored the game-winning goal with 6:57 left, and the Nashville Predators beat the St. Louis Blues to take a 3-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
Pekka Rinne outdueled St. Louis’ Jake Allen with 32 saves, and the Predators are a victory away from reaching the Western Conference final for the first time in franchise history.
Ryan Ellis scored at 5:09 of the third to break up a scoreless game. Neal then scored with 6:57 left to crank up the Nashville celebration as the Predators won their eighth straight playoff game at home.
Joel Edmundson scored with 3:49 left as St. Louis avoided the shutout. Blues coach Mike Yeo pulled Allen late, but they couldn’t beat Rinne again. Allen finished with 23 saves as the Blues lost consecutive road games for the first time since Feb. 28 and March 3.