NEW YORK — Rick Nash is showing exactly what the Rangers hoped they were getting when they pried him away from Columbus.
New York is riding high on a three-game winning streak, but instead of being able to fully celebrate their good fortune and the improved play of their newest star, the Rangers are holding their breath as they wait for medical news regarding key defenseman Marc Staal.
Nash broke a third-period tie and added an insurance goal in the Rangers’ 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. Any feelings of euphoria were greatly lessened because of concern regarding Staal, who appeared to be struck in the right eye by a deflected puck 5 minutes, 45 seconds into the third.
“I just looked at it. It’s scary,” said subdued Rangers coach John Tortorella, who hadn’t gotten an update on Staal’s condition.
Madison Square Garden was rocking with delight following Nash’s goals that were scored about nine minutes apart and pushed the Rangers ahead of the Flyers in the standings, despite New York (11-8-2) playing three fewer games.
Nash, who played his first nine NHL seasons in relative obscurity in Columbus, has four goals in three games since returning from an injury that forced him to miss four.
All seven of his goals this season have been scored in the third period.
“That’s my job. That’s what I’m trying to do,” he said. “It’s fun for me to play in front of a sold-out building in a hockey city that truly loves the Rangers.”
Nash fired a shot that sneaked under the right arm of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov 2:50 into the third to give New York its second lead. He doubled the advantage to 4-2 with 8:18 left, fighting off a hook on his hands by defenseman Kimmo Timonen and making a shift from backhand to forehand to score.
It is the second time this season the Rangers have won three straight. They are eighth in the East, one point ahead of Philadelphia and one point behind seventh-place New Jersey.
“I just started smiling after he scored the second goal,” winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “It just feels so good to have a player like that on the team that can be the difference every night.”
Ryan Callahan scored two first-period goals and assisted on Nash’s second, and Lundqvist made 23 saves for the Rangers, who played without Brad Richards. The star center sat out two nights after he was checked from behind into the boards by Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta.
Staal went down when a shot by Timonen from the blue line clipped the stick of Flyers forward Jake Voracek and caromed up into his eye, causing a cut. Staal, who wasn’t wearing a visor, squirmed on the ice and held his face before skating off.
“You can feel that it took the life out of the bench a little bit and the whole crowd,” Callahan said. “It’s a scary moment.”
Wayne Simmonds and Voracek both scored power-play goals in the first period for Philadelphia, and Bryzgalov stopped 16 shots.
The Flyers (11-12-1) got to NHL .500 for the first time this season on Saturday, but are back below again with games against Pittsburgh and Boston looming this week.
“We look at the record, but we can’t be looking at it every time we’re .500 or down, or have that one goal to be .500,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “This third period was good but not good enough. We made a couple of mistakes. It is just frustrating to see that we played a good game but can’t finish with the two points.
“We need to find a way to motivate ourselves whoever the other team is.”
The Rangers started quickly and nearly scored two minutes in. New York drew a holding penalty against Timonen at 1:09 and needed only 21 seconds to grab the lead.
Derek Stepan sent a pass left-to-right across the Philadelphia zone past defenseman Nicklas Grossmann over to Callahan, who settled the puck in the right circle and put it past Bryzgalov.
The Flyers made the most of their first advantage after New York forward Stu Bickel was sent off for elbowing at 6:50.
After Callahan couldn’t get the puck out of the Rangers’ end with a full-out lunge at the blue line, Voracek sent the puck across the zone to his left to Giroux, who quickly found Simmonds down low alone at the right post for an easy tip-in at 7:18 for his 10th goal.
Philadelphia struck again after Callahan was called for hooking at 16:53 and argued his case all the way to the penalty box.
Simmonds sent a pass from the goal line to the slot to Voracek, who kicked the puck onto his stick and let go a quick shot that Lundqvist blocked. The rebound came right back to Voracek, who found an opening for his 10th of the season with 2:53 left in the first.
Callahan got the Rangers even in the closing seconds of the period.
Ryan McDonagh forced a Philadelphia turnover in the neutral zone and sent a pass up to Callahan, who raced into the Flyers zone along the left-wing boards. As he darted toward the net, Philadelphia defenseman Luke Schenn sprawled on the ice in front of him. Callahan calmly skated around him, drove in on Bryzgalov and jammed a shot in from the crease with only 40.6 seconds to go.
Callahan unleashed an emphatic fist pump and a yell to celebrate his seventh goal.
“Anytime you let in a goal in the first minute of a game or the last minute of any period it gives the other team momentum,” Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said.
The teams combined for 14 shots in the first — eight by the Rangers — and scored four times. There were only a handful of good scoring chances in the second period when each team had six shots.
Notes: Grossmann sustained an undisclosed lower-body injury in the first period and didn’t return. ... Callahan has 13 two-goal games in the NHL. ... Nash has four goals and two assists since returning. Nash also has a seven-game point streak. The Rangers are 10-2-1 when he has a point and 11-5-1 when he plays.