NEW YORK — Julien Gauthier‘s first goal of the season helped the New York Rangers extend their winning streak to four games by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Gauthier’s unassisted goal at 1:56 of the third period gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead. He scored with a backhand from the slot moments after stealing the puck from Nick Suzuki in the same area.
Igor Shesterkin made 31 saves and Chris Kreider scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season for the Rangers (10-3-3), who have matched their longest winning streak of the season. They also won four in a row from Oct. 16-23.
“It’s just clicking right now,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought we played a real good game tonight.”
Christian Dvorak had a goal and an assist, and Cayden Primeau made 31 saves in his first start of the season for the Canadiens (4-12-2), who are 1-4-2 in their past seven games.
“It’s still the same end result,” Montreal forward Jake Evans said. “I do think for the most part we’re playing pretty good hockey and there’s just some mental lapses that cost us against a lot of these teams that have high-end skill and can make tougher plays that you don’t think are there. That’s what’s just been happening lately. Very small and not a lot of mental lapses, but they happen, and I feel they’re scoring on them.”
Primeau was the bright spot for the Canadiens. He was recalled from Laval of the American Hockey League on Saturday after Jake Allen was injured in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Primeau hadn’t played in the NHL since May 12 of last season. He is 4-4-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .916 save percentage for Laval this season.
“He was confident,” Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said. “He made some big saves. He looked solid. It’s good to see the young guy coming in like that. He’s got a little bit of experience the last couple of years. He knew what to expect and he was ready for it.”
Kaapo Kakko‘s second goal in as many games gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 15:46 of the first period. He scored with a one-timer from the slot off a pass from Artemi Panarin. Kakko did not have a point in his first 10 games.
“I have been waiting for those goals, just going to the net and ‘Bread’ or Strome, they’re going to find me, and I just have to shoot it to the empty net,” Kakko said. “Sometimes it’s so easy like that.”
Dvorak tied it 1-1 at 2:17 of the second period.
Montreal rookie forward Michael Pezzetta then challenged Rangers forward Ryan Reaves to a fight 65 seconds later. Pezzetta took the worst of it and Reaves pumped up the home crowd after the officials broke up the fight.
Reaves, a known fighter, said he was surprised Pezzetta, who was playing in his eighth NHL game, wanted to fight him.
“I was very confused on what was going on,” Reaves said. “That’s the second time in my [NHL] career that I was confused on whether it was a guy from the minors, an absolute killer trying to make a name or something. But both ended the same way.”
Kreider scored 32 seconds later.
Kreider started the rush from the defensive zone and moved the puck across to Mika Zibanejad. He then got behind Jeff Petry and Zibanejad found him with a right to left cross-ice pass for a redirection that gave New York a 2-1 lead at 3:50.
“The crowd was into it,” Reaves said. “The boys got one for me there, which was good. It’s always nice to be in the box after a fight and the boys go get one.”
Ducharme said he didn’t think the fight, or Pezzetta challenging Reaves, had anything to do with the Rangers getting momentum to score the go-ahead goal.
“He wanted to bring energy to the team,” Ducharme said. “It’s not why they scored the second goal. We were on the rush. We had a shot. It’s a good rebound that landed in a good spot for them. They were quick jumping on the offense. They made a good play back post.”
Gauthier scored because of his aggressiveness on the forecheck. He pestered Brett Kulak behind the net, reloaded to the front and stole the puck from Suzuki before scoring with his backhand.
“He’s forechecking better, he’s skating really well,” Gallant said. “I think he feels real comfortable playing in the NHL now and over the last number of games you see that. He scored a great goal by working hard.”
Josh Anderson scored 22 seconds later to make it 3-2.
NOTES: Jonathan Drouin returned to Montreal’s lineup after missing six games with a head injury. He had four shots on goal and was a plus-1 in 19:37. … Filip Chytil returned to the Rangers lineup after missing three games with an upper-body injury. He had two shots on goal and won five of 10 face-offs (50 percent) in 13:09. … The Rangers announced before the game that forward Sammy Blais would be out for the remainder of the regular season with a torn ACL in his right knee that will require surgery. … This was the Rangers 200th win against the Canadiens (200-335-94-5).
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