NEW YORK -- After being foiled on a breakaway in the second period, Rick Nash decided late in a deadlocked game that it was time to get his hands dirty. The result was the deciding goal and a much-needed victory for the New York Rangers.
Nash crashed the net and fired home a rebound with 1:58 remaining in regulation to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory against the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt scored for Dallas (20-17-7), which got 31 saves from Kari Lehtonen. Ryan Callahan and Derick Brassard had the other goals for the Rangers (23-20-3), and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 of 26 shots.
The win moved the Rangers into the first of the two wild-card playoff berths in the East.
With the game tied 2-2 and the clock ticking under 2:00, Lehtonen stopped Chris Kreider's shot from the side of the net but was unable to control the rebound. Nash pounced on the loose puck at the top of the crease and lifted a shot past the goaltender's blocker as he fell to the ice for his 10th goal of the season.
The Canadian Olympian admitted the winner wasn't exactly the prettiest goal of his career.
"I think it was 70 percent luck and 30 percent skill. The puck rolled up and went a little bit higher than I anticipated. Luckily enough it went in," Nash said. "We started going to the inside and crashing the net and getting pucks to the net. It ended up being the difference."
The goal was a far cry from a classic Nash rush early in the second period.
The Rangers trailed 2-1 when John Moore's pass sent him in alone on Lehtonen. Nash got off a quick shot, but the puck squeezed between Lehtonen's outstretched right pad and blocker before going wide in a 1-on-1 sequence featuring two players who will be competing at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"He made a good save. That move is a tough move to stop," Nash said. "He's a good goalie."
The breakaway came 2:19 after Garbutt gave Dallas its second lead of the night.
The Stars dictated the pace early in the middle period, outshooting the Rangers 5-0 in the opening five minutes. It was during that stretch that Garbutt scored at 3:34. One day after he was a healthy scratch against the New Jersey Devils, Antoine Roussel led a 2-on-1 break into the Rangers zone. His feed into the slot was deflected into the air, but Garbutt managed to knock down the puck with his stick before depositing it between Lundqvist's legs for his eighth of the season.
Nash couldn't tie the game on his breakaway, but the Rangers' red-hot power play produced the equalizer 8:22 into the second, 30 seconds after Shawn Horcoff took the game's first penalty when he was sent off for holding. Stationed in the slot, Brassard redirected Mats Zuccarello's pass from the right half-wall past Lehtonen for his seventh of the season to tie the game 2-2 and give the Rangers their 13th power-play goal in the past 12 games.
"I just gave him my blade and he put it right on my tape," Brassard said of Zuccarello. "We have a couple of [set] plays on the power play. I'm just happy we executed."
As in the second, the opening period saw both teams score once.
Garbutt's hustle led to the game's first goal 4:06 after the opening faceoff. He beat Rangers defenseman Marc Staal to a puck behind the New York net before feeding a wide-open Eakin in front. Lundqvist got a piece of Eakin's shot, but not enough to keep it from going over the goal line. Eakin's ninth goal of the season was a sign of things to come, as Dallas' checking line would score again in the second and was a threat much of the night.
"Those guys gave us everything," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of the line of Eakin, Garbutt and Roussel. "They were in on the majority of the chances. I thought every time they were on the ice they were dangerous."
Callahan tied the game at 11:20 after Brad Richards led a rush into the Dallas zone. His initial shot was blocked by Sergei Gonchar, but Richards managed to regain control of the puck and fed a streaking Callahan at the side of the net. He shot while being upended by Jamie Benn but still managed to beat Lehtonen for his eighth of the season and a 1-1 tie.
With the victory, the Rangers are 3-0-1 in their past four games, a streak that includes arguably New York's biggest win of the season. After winning 3-2 on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday, the Rangers wanted to continue that momentum Friday against Dallas.
"That's what we talked about before the game. Going into a building like Chicago and getting two points is huge," Nash said. "It doesn't mean much if you don't get the win tonight. Tonight kind of puts the exclamation point on that win."
As for the Stars, Dallas has lost their fifth straight after going 0-3-0 on a swing through the New York metropolitan area. The Stars go home to host the New York Islanders on Sunday.
"It's a great way to judge a person's character, when you're dealing with adversity. We're dealing with it right now," Ruff said. "That's painful when you battle all game long and one goes in with two minutes left. But you've got to get over it. We've got to move on. We created some great opportunities but didn't finish them."