NEW YORK -- Much of the attention Saturday afternoon was on Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella, who was returning to Madison Square Garden for the first time since being fired as New York Rangers coach after more than four seasons behind their bench. That New York's current coach, Alain Vigneault, was fired by the Canucks last summer after seven seasons in Vancouver only magnified the matchup.
But it was one of the players Tortorella helped groom in New York who ended up stealing the show. Chris Kreider scored three goals as the Rangers defeated the Canucks 5-2.
It was a difficult return for Tortorella, who admitted it was initially awkward going against his former team. But once the game began, those feelings were quickly forgotten.
"I'm not going to lie, it's a little weird for me coming back," Tortorella said. "But once the game starts, it's about playing and trying to find a way to get a win."
The Canucks could not.
Rangers goalie Cam Talbot made a career-high 35 saves in his first career start at MSG, Rick Nash added a goal and two assists, and Michael Del Zotto scored for the Rangers, who bounced back from a 3-2 road loss to the Boston Bruins on Friday.
Playing on a new line with Derek Stepan and Nash, Kreider opened the scoring with 7:23 remaining in the first period after being sent in on Luongo with a pass from the blue line by Nash. Kreider snapped the puck past Luongo's blocker for his fourth of the season to give New York a 1-0 lead.
The play started with a failed clearing attempt along the boards by Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler, who was benched for the remainder of the first period.
"We need more out of Edie," Tortorella said. "He's a hell of a hockey player. We all know that. He needs to get some consistency. He's the one we expect a lot of. It's part of my job to find that out of him."
With Nash and Kreider using their size and speed to their advantage, New York's refashioned top line found open passing and shooting lanes throughout the game.
"It definitely opened things up. We had a lot of chances and we capitalized on our chances," Nash said. "We were feeling some chemistry early and everything worked out."
Vigneault put the trio on the power play when Zack Kassian was whistled for delay of game after he shot the puck over the glass with 3:28 left in the period. Kreider doubled New York's lead 22 seconds later by redirecting Ryan McDonagh's shot from the right circle past Luongo.
Just like that, two big mistakes put the Canucks down 2-0.
"I think we generate [chances] early on in the game, we don't score, and we just make a huge mistake five feet from the blue line and it ends up in our net," Tortorella said. "Throw one out of the rink, power-play goal and again we're just climbing the hill."
Vancouver's inability to capitalize on its chances was mostly due to Talbot, who made some big saves when it counted. In a sequence that began with 9:16 remaining in the first, Talbot stopped Alexandre Burrows in front of the net, then made a toe save off a spinning shot from Kevin Bieksa five seconds later. The 26-year-old also perfectly played an odd-man rush in which Daniel Sedin fed brother Henrik for a scoring chance with 8:50 remaining in the first.
Those saves appeared to spark the home crowd and the Rangers (14-13-0), who opened the scoring 87 seconds after Talbot's stop on the Sedins.
"The crowd went crazy as soon as Kreider buried that first one," said Talbot, who now boasts a .944 save percentage, which ranked second in the NHL entering Saturday night. "They're our seventh man, we feed off their energy."
Kreider completed his first NHL hat trick with 10:22 remaining in the third period when he deflected Anton Stralman's wrist shot from the point past Lack.
He was quick to deflect any praise toward his linemates.
"Those are just the kind of players they are. It doesn't matter really who you put with them, they're so good. I've been really lucky to have some good linemates this year," Kreider said. "I think if you play with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, the game is going to slow down for you."
Nash expanded the Rangers' lead 17 seconds into the second. After Dan Girardi's point shot was blocked by Daniel Sedin, Stepan found the puck in the slot and fired toward the net, where Nash got a piece of the puck for his fourth of the season. The 3-0 lead gave Nash a goal in three straight games and spelled the end for Luongo, who was replaced by Lack after allowing three goals on 10 shots.
Del Zotto, a healthy scratch in five of the Rangers' previous eight games, made it 4-0 when he scored on the power play as Christopher Tanev sat out for holding. Following some quick passing between Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, Del Zotto was left alone at the left point. His blast from the top of the circle beat Lack for his second of the season at 11:04.
"It definitely felt good. The first period you could tell that I was fighting it a little bit," Del Zotto said. "It felt great."
Booth got Vancouver on the board with 4:10 remaining in the second. He was streaking toward the net from the left side when Mike Santorelli found him with a one-touch pass; Booth went to the backhand to beat Talbot between the legs for his third of the season.
Daniel Sedin scored with 2:35 remaining and Kreider off for roughing.
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