Rick Nash returned from Russia with a gold medal and netted a goal Thursday. Credit: Getty Images
It was neither crisp nor especially emotion-laden, but the Rangers will take the result.
Following the NHL's two-week Olympic hiatus, the Rangers got back to the business with a 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks Thursday night at the Garden.
"A win is a win," Rick Nash said.
The Rangers improved to 33-24-3 with their seventh win in the last 10 games, and swept the season series with Chicago following the first game for both teams since Feb. 7.
"We went into the [Olympic] break with the momentum we had," Dan Girardi said. "Guys worked hard to get a win against a very good team in the West."
Among the aspects to the Rangers' success over the last six weeks had been the play of the third line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot. The line was sans Zuccarello, who suffered a broken right hand during the Olympics, forcing the organization to call up J.T. Miller from AHL Hartford to replace him. But the line didn't seem to miss a beat as Brassard opened the scoring 10:14 into the game. The trio's offensive zone pressure lead to the center's 12th of the season.
"On our first goal [Miller] made a good read on [Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford] mishandling the puck and worked our way back, and created the turnover," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "He had two opportunities and [Brassard] scored on the second one."
Cam Talbot made the slim lead hold up as he stopped 31 shots to record his 11th win of the season.
Despite holding decided advantages in attempted shots (62-39) and shots on goal (32-24), the Blackhawks' best opportunities did not come until a third period in which they outshot the Rangers 13-2. But they weren't able to solve Talbot until ex-Islander Peter Regin spoiled the shutout bid with 11.6 seconds remaining.
By that time, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead on the strength of Nash's 19th of the season with 4:07 remaining.
"[Talbot] played great and deserved the shutout," said Marc Staal, who was stalwart in 20:38 of ice time despite being a game-time decision due to back spasms.
Other than Zuccarello, whose broken hand is expected to cost him three to four weeks, Vigneault kept the line combinations and defensive pairings that contributed to a 12-5-1 mark over the season's previous seven weeks intact.
By doing so, Vigneault opted to keep Daniel Carcillo on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore instead of re-inserting right wing Derek Dorsett into the lineup. Dorsett suffered a broken right fibula while blocking a shot in the 5-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, and missed 17 games. Before the game, Vigneault said he will determine on a per-game basis how and when he will use Dorsett.
The win also began a stretch of three games in four nights for the Rangers, who will be in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon before returning home for Sunday night's tilt against the Bruins.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter@DenisGorman.