By Jess Myers, The Sports Xchange - SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The New York Rangers, known for their responsible defense, made an uncharacteristic mistake on Thursday, leaving Minnesota Wild star left winger Zach Parise alone in front of their goalie. The error proved costly.
Parise took advantage, scoring the game-winner early in the third period as the Wild snapped a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over the Rangers.
Right winger Nino Niederreiter also scored for the Wild and goalie Darcy Kuemper had 29 saves for his 12th win of the season -- a franchise record for a rookie netminder. It was the first win for the Wild (35-22-9) since last week's NHL trade deadline.
"It's important, getting wins this time of the year and finding ways to win games like this," Wild coach Mike Yeo said, gearing up for a fight to the finish as the playoffs get closer. "We're going to have a lot of games that don't feel perfect at the end. We're going to be playing against a lot of desperate teams, teams that we have to expect to be good every night. I expect a lot of close games down the stretch."
Center Derek Stepan scored for the Rangers (35-28-4) during a second-period power play as New York lost its second game in a row. Goalie Cam Talbot, making just his second start since the Olympic break, had 24 saves, falling to 11-6-0 this season. The Parise mistake had the Rangers stewing afterward.
"It's unacceptable," said left winger Rick Nash. "When the puck's there, the wingers have to crash down and everybody's got to take a guy. I think we were a bit out of position and they capitalized. I think Cam made the first two or three saves. We can't expect him to make all of them. We've got to be better."
Niederreiter opened the scoring with his first goal since before a stint with Team Switzerland at the Sochi Olympics. He took advantage of a Rangers turnover behind the net, finding himself all alone in front of Talbot with the puck. A quick wrist shot later, Minnesota led 1-0.
During a second-period power play, Stepan got the Rangers back to even. His point-blank shot hit the post, but the Rangers regrouped without losing possession of the puck and eventually got it back to Stepan at the blue line. His shot through a crowd in front of Kuemper sailed past the goalie on the stick side.
For Stepan, it was his second goal in the past four games.
Early in the third period during a scramble in front of Talbot, the Wild got four consecutive whacks at the puck with right winger Jason Pominville, center Mikael Granlund and Parise all taking turns. The last shot of the quartet came off Parise's stick and slid under the goalie's outstretched right arm. It was Parise's 23rd goal of the season -- one behind Pominville, who is the team leader.
"(Talbot) made a couple good saves," Parise said. "Pommer had about six whacks at it too, but it was a really smart play by Granlund to attack the net, for him to recognize that he had room. That's what started the play, and I think at that point of the game, we needed to start getting some pucks into the crease there and get an ugly one. Luckily, it went in.
The Rangers had two shots in a mad scramble in front of Kuemper in the game's final 10 seconds but could not tie the score.
"They capitalized on the mistakes that we made, and offensively we weren't able to capitalize on some of their mistakes," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "For the first two periods, both teams were playing fairly close to the vest. They were flipping a lot of pucks, and you're using the glass to get it out. After they scored their second goal in the third period, they sort of backed off a little bit on their forecheck, and we were able to get some chances there but weren't able to finish."
It was the sixth consecutive one-goal game the Wild have played.
NOTES: Wild RW Justin Fontaine was a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game on Thursday. The rookie has 12 goals this season but does not have a point since Jan. 16. ... Newly signed F Ryan Haggerty was not with the Rangers in Minnesota on Thursday. He is expected to join the team on Saturday when they return to New York. Haggerty signed Wednesday, leaving college a year early after leading Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with 28 goals this season. ... It took the Wild more than six minutes to get their first shot on goal, and then it came off the stick of Rangers D Ryan McDonagh. He bounced a clearing attempt off G Cam Talbot's pads, which went in the books at Minnesota's first shot on goal of the game. ... The Wild's four-game homestand concludes Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Rangers' three-game road trip wraps up Friday night in Winnipeg against the Jets. Winnipeg won the season's first meeting between the teams 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 2.