NEW YORK — Mats Zuccarello has enjoyed plenty of winning nights at Madison Square Garden. Now he can rest easy that he’ll be sticking around for a while.
Keith Yandle also had a night to remember as his New York Rangers debut went about as well as he could have hoped.
Zuccarello had two assists shortly after his four-year contract extension was announced, and Yandle skated off a winner in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the NHL-leading Nashville Predators on Monday.
With unrestricted free agency looming this summer, Zuccarello and the Rangers reached an agreement shortly before the March 2 NHL trade deadline. The small, dynamic forward could have been sent packing if a new deal hadn’t been made.
“This is where I want to be, and I want to be a part of this team,” said Zuccarello, who teamed with Derick Brassard to set up goals by Marc Staal and Chris Kreider. “I want to try to win with this team.
“This is home.”
His production helped the Rangers rebound from a rare regulation loss and sent the Predators to a season-worst third straight defeat. Dominic Moore and Rick Nash added third-period goals to make Yandle’s night a success, one day after he was acquired from Arizona.
“It was awesome,” the All-Star defenseman said. “I had a little bit of butterflies and I was nervous a little bit just being on a new team, but the crowd did a great job of welcoming me.”
Cam Talbot stopped 25 shots to improve to 9-2-2 in place of injured No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who turned 33 on Monday.
The Rangers, 12-2-2 in their past 16 games, moved into a tie with the rival Islanders atop the Metropolitan Division. New York’s 4-2 loss at Philadelphia on Feb. 28 was its first in regulation since falling 3-2 at Nashville on Feb. 7.
“It was a good test for us to see where we are against the No. 1 team in the NHL,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Matt Cullen scored for the Predators in the second period. Pekka Rinne made 36 saves but dropped his third straight decision, including a pair of home losses.
“Anytime you lose a game you’re concerned,” Cullen said. “We have an eye on the big picture but at the same time we need to focus on what we have here. We need to dig ourselves out of it.
“We’re not playing as well as we can.”
The Rangers jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Zuccarello sent a cross-zone feed to Staal, who skated into the left circle and snapped a shot past Rinne at 6:36 for the defenseman’s fifth goal.
New York nearly doubled its lead with 4:57 left, shortly after Zuccarello finished serving a high-sticking penalty, but Nash was denied on his breakaway attempt. The Rangers wrapped up the period with a 12-5 edge in shots.
They made it 2-0 at 4:15 of the second on Kreider’s 17th goal. Zuccarello spotted Kreider charging from the bench on a line change straight for the net and found him with a perfect pass for a slam shot past Rinne.
“He was a real good player,” Vigneault said of Zuccarello. “I don’t know if the fact that he just signed his big deal made him do that, but we need him to be on top of his game.
“Hopefully his mind is clear, and we’re going to see Mats on a regular basis.”
Nashville found its legs in the second half of the second and began to put more pressure and shots on Talbot. The Predators cashed in with 4:36 left on Cullen’s seventh goal and second in two games.
From Talbot’s right, Taylor Beck sent a behind-the-back pass from his knees across the crease to Cullen for the quick shot. Cullen has seven points in six games.
“They were quicker to the puck, quicker to areas. We were slow,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s not typical of our team. It’s not the gear that we need to be in in order to be successful.”
Moore swept in a rebound of Dan Girardi’s point shot for his eighth goal at 5:51 of the third, and Nash iced it with an empty-net goal — his 38th overall — with 44 seconds left.
Talbot stood tall the rest of the way, drawing chants of “Tal-bot! Tal-bot!” from the Madison Square Garden crowd.
(IRA PODELL, AP Hockey Writer)