Updated: 04/20/2013 11:05 AM KSTP.com
(AP) NEW YORK - Rick Nash had a goal and assist in the first period, and Ryan Callahan had a pair of assists as the New York Rangers hung on to eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Derick Brassard and Nash both scored power-play goals, with help from Callahan in the first, and Mats Zuccarello found the net for the second straight game to give the playoff-hopeful Rangers their sixth win in nine games (6-2-1).
Zuccarello scored in the second period and then added his second of the night with 4:49 left in the game when he tipped the puck in after Brad Richards raced it up ice and fed in front. Brassard made it 5-1 just 1:24 later with his second of the game, with an assist from Nash, and Richards pushed the lead to five goals with 1:24 remaining.
New York had a lackluster 4-2 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday that allowed Winnipeg to get even in points in the tight Eastern race. The Rangers (22-17-4) have five games left.
Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves for his 20th win of the season. Even in this lockout-shortened, 48-game season, Lundqvist reached 20 wins for the eighth straight time.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored in the second period for Florida (13-24-6), which has an NHL-low 32 points. Scott Clemmensen stopped 24 shots, but the Panthers lost their fourth in a row and for the fifth time in six games.
The Rangers found their offense by taking advantage of the NHL’s worst penalty-killing unit in the first period. New York had been 0-for-14 with the advantage in its previous four games, but connected on its first two tries to grab an early 2-0 lead.
Brassard got it started at 3:05 after Callahan had a shot blocked by Clemmensen. Nash got the puck behind the net and found Brassard in front with a pass, leading to a goal from the doorstep. It was Brassard’s ninth goal of the season and second in eight games since he came to the Rangers on the day of the trade deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nash, a former Blue Jackets star now in his first season with New York, netted his 18th goal at 9:10 with a blistering wrist shot from the right circle off the rush after Callahan passed the puck across to him during another power play.
It is the fourth time this season the Rangers scored more than one goal on their power play that came in ranked 20th in the NHL and produced only 20 goals in the previous 42 games.
On the flip side, the Panthers came in having killed only 73.5 of their short-handed situations this season. Florida improved in the second period, turning aside both New York advantages.
However, with the teams at even strength, Zuccarello pushed the Rangers’ lead to 3-1 at 16:34 with a backhanded shot from right in front after Ryan Clowe skated back and forth behind the net before getting the puck to him.
Huberdeau had gotten the Panthers within 2-1 with 4:43 left in the first when he used a brilliant skating move to get around Zuccarello in the Rangers end and beat Lundqvist with a shot for his 14th of the season.
NOTES: The Rangers were without C Brian Boyle, who injured his right leg on Tuesday. He is expected to miss games at Buffalo on Saturday and home against New Jersey on Sunday, too. ... Callahan, who played in his 400th NHL game, received the team’s Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award for the fourth time in five years. He and Adam Graves (five) are the only four-time winners. ... The Rangers agreed to terms with undrafted free agent forward Michael Kantor. ... Florida recalled D Alex Petrovic from San Antonio of the AHL and he made his NHL debut. ... The Panthers have used 37 players this season. ... The Rangers are 24-6-3 in their last 33 games against Southeast Division opponents, including an 9-3-1 this season. ... New York has earned at least one point in 89 consecutive games when leading after the second period, dating to the 2009-10 season. The Rangers are 83-0-6 in that span, including 13-0 this season
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)