NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers used a fast start and a furious finish to put away the lowly Florida Panthers and lock up a victory they had to have in the push for the playoffs.
Derick Brassard and Rick Nash scored power-play goals in the opening 10 minutes, and Mats Zuccarello, Brassard and Brad Richards turned a tight game into a rout with goals 3:25 apart late in the third period of the Rangers' 6-1 victory on Thursday night.
The Rangers remained in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, tied with Winnipeg in points but holding the final playoff spot because they have a game in hand on the Jets.
Zuccarello and Brassard both finished with two goals, Nash and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan added two assists each, and Richards also had with a two-point night as New York quickly erased the memory of a lackluster loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday that temporarily halted their surge toward the postseason.
The Rangers (22-17-4) will play at Buffalo on Friday and face desperate New Jersey at home Sunday. All of New York's final five games are against teams below the playoff cutoff in the East.
"It's a huge game," Nash said. "We've got to get a win (Friday) night. We'll enjoy this for a couple of hours, then go back to work tomorrow morning."
Brassard and Nash both scored power-play goals, with help from Callahan in the first, and Zuccarello found the net for the second straight game to give the 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 when he tipped the puck in after Richards raced it up ice. 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.
The loss on Tuesday enabled Winnipeg to get even in points with the Rangers. Winnipeg kept pace Thursday with an overtime win over Carolina.
"It's important. We don't need help," Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the standings. "I think it's an opportunity for some guys to step up. You shouldn't feel the pressure and shy away from it.
"That's the way you need to take it as an individual and as a group."
Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves for his 20th win. Even in this lockout-shortened, 48-game season, Lundqvist reached 20 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 despite holding a 35-30 edge in shots.
"You lose by five goals, it's pretty hard to put anything (positive) to it," disappointed Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's a results business. Tonight is another example that we have to be a lot better."