ANAHEIM, Calif. - Playing the NHL-leading Ducks, according to many Rangers, would be a yardstick at this point in their season.
But Blueshirts coach Alain Vigneault said before Wednesday night's game that the Ducks also might be measuring themselves against the Rangers, who had won 10 of 11 games.
In any case, based on the evidence from Wednesday night, the two teams are certainly close. But the Rangers, with three third-period goals, pulled away and emerged from Honda Center with their third consecutive win with a hard-fought 4-1 victory.
Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Dominic Moore scored and Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves as the Rangers raced to their 11th win in 12 games.
Anaheim (26-10-6) has 58 points; the Rangers (22-11-4) have 48.
In a fast-paced game in which plays were broken up and shots were deflected continuously, Brassard gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a blast from the point that eluded Ilya Bryzgalov at 9:10 of the second period on a delayed penalty.
At 2:32 of the third, Sami Vatanen's attempted clear was stopped by Kevin Klein, whose shot was tipped by Rick Nash and only partially stopped by Bryzgalov's stick, as the puck popped past him. It was Nash's 25th goal of the season; he leads all players in games with a goal (20).
The Ducks had their second power play when Ryan McDonagh went off for hooking at 7:12 of the third. They had been 1-for-28, and the Rangers' 10th-ranked penalty-kill allowed no shots on Lundqvist. But soon after the penalty was killed, Derek Stepan cleared the puck over the glass at 9:59 for a delay-of-game penalty.
This time the Ducks converted as Francois Beauchemin's long shot ticked off Carl Hagelin and flew past Lundqvist 10 seconds later.
The Rangers were 15-0-1 when leading after two periods, and when Zuccarello, off Beauchemin's turnover under pressure from Nash, fired a slapper from the right dot off Bryzgalov's shoulder for a 3-1 lead at 14:27, they figured to continue that streak. It was Zuccarello's first goal in 10 games. The lead was extended when Dominic Moore scored into an empty net at 17:46.
On Brassard's goal, Lundqvist, making his seventh consecutive start, left the crease after Klein's stick was slashed in half by Matt Beleskey and the Rangers regrouped. Marc Staal found J.T. Miller, who passed to Brassard at the left point and the center hammered home his 11th goal.
It was quite a difference from the 6-0 blowout by the Ducks last season in the Blueshirts' lone visit to Honda Center.
"You've just got to keep pounding away at him, and hopefully you get three [goals] by him, because he doesn't usually give up three, unless it's October," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said of Lundqvist before the game. "Getting three by him now is a tough deal, and if you can do that and play good defense, hopefully you can hold on to win."
Bryzgalov was a surprise starter for the Ducks. The former Flyer signed a one-year contract on Dec. 9, and his only previous start was against Ottawa on Dec. 19, a 6-2 loss. No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen was rested.
In the first period, Lundqvist rescued the Bluehsirts with saves on Vatanen and Rene Bourque at the five-minute mark and near the end. He jumped to deny a shot from the left circle with his shoulder and then stopped Pat Maroon from about 12 feet after Dan Girardi's turnover.