Martin St. Louis was waiting for a breakout game since he arrived from Tampa on March 5.
It happened Tuesday night, when St. Louis set up three goals -- two to Brad Richards on power plays -- in his first multi-point game as a Ranger as the Blueshirts beat the Hurricanes, 4-1, and remained in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"You knew it was just a matter of time before he figured it out," said Derek Stepan, who scored the fourth goal, a tap-in at the right post on St. Louis' pass off the rush at 4:38 of the third period. "He's getting himself more and more comfortable here."
The 38-year-old St. Louis, who played 16:30 and just missed a goal on two occasions, agreed. "I feel a lot better the last six, seven games," he said. "It's nice to get rewarded on so many plays. It's definitely a feel-good game for me, the team played really well. I had a lot of jump . . . It's a game I'm looking to build on."
The team could say the same. A night after clinching a playoff berth when the Devils lost to the Flames, the Rangers (44-31-5) reached the 93-point mark with two games remaining in the season. The speedier Rangers took control at home after falling behind early, and grabbed two valuable points for the first time in three games.
The Flyers, two points behind the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and a likely first-round opponent, beat the Panthers and have 91 points with a game in hand. The Blueshirts, however, own the tiebreaker: regulation and overtime wins, 40-38. The third-place Blue Jackets also won and have 89 points.
With the Rangers ahead 2-1, Richards scored his 20th at 13:36 of the second period on a one-timer past a screened Cam Ward. It was the ninth time that Richards has scored 20 or more and the first time that the Rangers have scored twice with the man-advantage since Feb. 7 in Pittsburgh. That took the air out of Carolina, which is 13th in the East.
Early in the third, Ward stopped Mats Zuccarello, who had assisted on Benoit Pouliot's goal at the 50-second mark of the second, from the slot. But he was helpless on Stepan's tally. Anton Stralman collected his second assist on the play.
Carolina's Patrick Dwyer opened the scoring 3:22 into the game, then Lundqvist fended off the 'Canes until Alexander Semin went off for hooking at 15:35. St. Louis backhanded a pass through traffic and found Richards in the left circle, and Richards' wrist shot beat Ward shortside nine seconds later.
"When your top guys play the way they did tonight, it's going to be big for us," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves. "It's great to see the way we were moving the puck."
Indeed, the Rangers were rolling. "We want to go into the playoffs feeling good about our game," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We had one of our best scoring-chance nights of the year, about 20, and that's a lot."