NEW YORK (AP) — The St. Louis Blues are working hard to defend their Stanley Cup crown and forging the type of win they did in a fast-paced game against the New York Rangers proved that point.
Brayden Schenn scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period and Jordan Binnington made 25 saves as the Blues won their eighth straight with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Colton Parayko each had a goal and an assist for St. Louis.
Schenn scored for the fifth consecutive game when his wraparound banked off the skate of goalie Alexandar Georgiev at 9:56. Schwartz and Parayko got assists on Schenn’s 25th of the season.
Schwartz sealed it with an empty-net goal, his 21st, at 19:54 as the Rangers lost their third straight.
“We got some bounces and Binnington has been rock solid,″ said the 28-year-old Schenn, who has meshed well with linemates Schwartz and Ryan O’Reilly, all of whom contributed on the Blues’ third goal. “We’re playing playoff hockey now and we’re earning our points every night.”
Binnington won his sixth in a row for the defending champion Blues (40-17-10), who have the best record in the Western Conference and previously had winning streaks of seven and eight games this season.
“We did a good job,″ Binnington said. ”I’m happy we got the win tonight. We have to keep building.”
Only the Boston Bruins, whom St. Louis defeated in Game 7 of the Finals last year, have more points. The Blues are just the second defending champions in NHL history to have three separate winning streaks of seven-plus games the following season, matching the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens.
“We battled,″ said coach Craig Berube, who took over behind the bench just more than a month into last season and led the Blues to their first championship in franchise history. “That was playoff hockey with not a lot of room. We capitalized on our chances.”
Mika Zibanejad opened the scoring for the Rangers with a power-play goal at 12:26 of the first period, whipping the puck past Binnington for his 33rd goal while Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was off for tripping.
Zibanejad has goals in eight of the Rangers’ last nine games and 12 of the past 15 to take over the team lead from Artemi Panarin, who has 32 goals and 90 points. The 26-year-old Zibanejad has played in just 53 games this season and has 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in his last 19.
The Blues tied it on an unassisted goal at 2:35 of the second by Parayko, who beat Georgiev for his ninth of the season. Georgiev started for the fourth time in five games after veteran Henrik Lundqvist allowed five goals in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Philadelphia, his first start since Feb. 3. Georgiev made 19 saves in his 30th start of the season.
“That was a really good team we were facing — a really good defensive game on both ends,” Georgiev said. “We have to keep playing the right way like that.”
The Rangers were coming off back-to-back losses to the Flyers after winning five games in a row and nine of 10 to surge into the Eastern Conference playoff race. They are four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, who currently hold the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.
“I liked our effort. The loss hurts more this time of year because of the position we are in,″ Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. ”That’s a team that knows how to win. They don’t give you anything for free.”
The Rangers have a tough road ahead with Washington visiting on Thursday, then New Jersey on Saturday followed by a trip to Dallas, Colorado and Arizona.
The Blues improved to 7-1-4 against Metropolitan Division opponents and 13-6-4 overall against Eastern Conference teams this season. They have outscored opponents 28-13 during their winning streak.
“We’re just keeping it simple,″ said Parayko, who scored for the second time in three games. ”I like these close games. Our biggest thing is staying together as a group.”
NOTES: O’Reilly played his 800th career game. … The Rangers scratched injured forward Chris Kreider and goalie Igor Shesterkin. … The Blues scratched defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and forwards MacKenzie MacEachern, Jordan Kyrou and Troy Brouwer. … St. Louis won the previous meeting, 5-2 on Jan. 11 at home.
Blues: At the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.
Rangers: Host the Washington Capitals on Thursday night