NEW YORK -- New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal didn't see it happen. He didn't have a chance. It happened too quickly.
Four seconds after the ensuing faceoff following Martin St. Louis' first goal of the season, Rick Nash was raising his arms in celebration of his League-high seventh goal of the season.
"I was looking for my guy and all of a sudden I see the puck in the net," Staal said. "It was great."
Nash's goal at 19:20 of the second period essentially crushed any hopes the San Jose Sharks had of coming back Sunday at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers used their speed, aggressive forecheck, and the occasional Sharks blunder to win 4-0, handing San Jose its first regulation loss of the season.
The Sharks were coming off a 4-2 win Saturday against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. The Rangers hadn't played since Thursday.
"We were patient with them," Staal said. "Get them on a road trip, on a back to back, and I think we did the right things to make them work harder to achieve chances. Then we were able to capitalize when we got our own. It was a solid game for us."
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 33 saves for his first shutout of the season, and Nash and St. Louis tied the record for the fastest back-to-back goals in team history. In addition, Carl Hagelin scored his first goal of the season and Kevin Hayes scored his first career NHL goal.
Hayes, who played center in between Nash and Chris Kreider for the first time, had four shots on goal and was credited with five hits and three takeaways.
"It finally went in," Hayes said. "I hope that's a springboard into something special."
The Rangers are hoping their overall game Sunday is a springboard into some sustained success.
New York has won back-to-back games after losing three straight to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders by a combined 17-8. The reasons: improved defensive structure, more coverage in the middle of the ice, and sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
The Rangers were 0-for-3 in those categories during their three-game skid. They improved in all three for a 2-1 shootout win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, and were even better for 60 minutes against the Sharks.
"It was probably our most complete game of the year," Lundqvist said. "We made so many good decisions. We stayed patient with it too. It was a tight game. They didn't give us much, but we didn't give them almost anything. The last couple of games we have been playing better and better as a group and making smart decisions."
Said Nash: "I think we're coming to our house and helping our goalie out. We're locking the middle down. We're not giving up the chances that we did in the first couple of games."
It wasn't a perfect night for New York; defenseman Dan Girardi left the game early in the third period with an injury and didn't return.
Girardi played one shift in the third and blocked two shots; the first from San Jose forward Joe Pavelski cut him near his foot and required stitches, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
"I think from the impact of the shot, he cut himself," Vigneault said.
The Sharks had essentially no flow to their game and couldn't sustain pressure. They also didn't get much help from goalie Alex Stalock, who gave up three goals he wishes he could have back.
"They were bad goals," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I can't protect him. He knows that."
Stalock, who finished with 25 saves, fumbled what should have been an easy save on Hagelin's uncontested wrist shot from the blue line. Following his shot, Hagelin got inside position on Sharks defenseman Mirco Mueller so he could get to the rebound and knock it in at 13:01 of the second period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
"I was early," Stalock said. "It hit the back side of my glove. I was early and beat the puck to my chest. It's a mistake you can't make in this League."
St. Louis scored at 19:16 of the second when his shot went under Stalock's pads and over the goal line. The puck came to St. Louis out of the near corner, where Girardi and forward Mats Zuccarello were forechecking.
Nash quickly made it 3-0 with the help of Stalock, who flubbed the puck when it came to him in between the circles and then whiffed on a pokecheck. Nash beat Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin to the loose puck and chipped it between Stalock's legs.
"I was planning on either freezing it or moving to the side," Stalock said, "and did neither."
Hayes scored his first career goal off his own rebound after he stripped the puck away from Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and curled around the back of the net.
"We weren't hard enough," McLellan said. "We didn't compete in areas that we needed to compete. Usually for me the first place I go to is the faceoff circle and we were eaten alive."
The Rangers won 41 of 62 faceoffs (66 percent).
"We're normally a team that can establish possession off of there and we didn't do that," McLellan said. "Even when we won draws we weren't executing and didn't bump up. Our play around our net, we weren't hard in those areas. We weren't hard offensively around their net either. Just didn't have the grit and maybe determination that we needed."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl