Published March 18, 2013
| Associated Press
NEW YORK – Nothing about the first period suggested the New York Rangers were about to snap their three-game losing streak.
Back at home Monday night after a four-game trip that concluded with losses at Buffalo, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh, the Rangers were sluggish early against the Carolina Hurricanes and started the second period in a familiar hole.
But Derek Stepan scored the tying goal, and Henrik Lundqvist was perfect in net the rest of the way as the Rangers outlasted the Hurricanes 2-1 in a shootout.
Lundqvist allowed a goal to Eric Staal in the final minute of the first, but no other pucks got past him — including two shootout attempts.
Now the Rangers will look to build on this win as they get set to face the Devils in New Jersey on Tuesday. Carolina and New Jersey are part of a four-team logjam with 32 points in the Eastern Conference — two more than the ninth-place Rangers.
"It means nothing if we don't go into Jersey and play the same way," captain Ryan Callahan said of the Rangers, who have scored only three goals in four games. "We have to go to Jersey and show that kind of effort we did in the second and third, and pucks will start going in for us, too.
"There's no concern in this room. We know we have guys in here that can score goals, and it's going to come."
Rangers coach John Tortorella put his three biggest offensive threats — Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik — on one line against the Hurricanes. The trio didn't produce a goal.
Nash scored in the opening round of the shootout, and rookie J.T. Miller fumbled his way to a goal in the third round to clinch the win. The 20-year-old Miller skated in slowly on Dan Ellis and briefly lost the puck before calmly gathering it and scoring from a tough angle near the goal line.
Miller also had trouble with the move earlier in the season, but Tortorella felt confident about using him in another big spot.
"He almost fanned again," Tortorella said. "He went so slow, I think he missed it about three or four times before he scored. It wasn't a great move, but you give him credit ... just to hold onto it and keep it and put it in the net."
Carolina (15-11-2), tied in points with Winnipeg atop the Southeast Division, dropped its third straight (0-2-1). It was the Hurricanes' first shootout this season.
Lundqvist made 29 saves through overtime. Ellis stopped 35 shots in his third start since No. 1 goalie Cam Ward was injured March 3.
"He gave us the opportunity to get a point," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said of Ellis. "He made some real key saves, especially late."
New York had a couple of close calls in the third period, including a chance in front by Gaborik. The Rangers also had the only power play in the third, the first time in six games they had more than two advantages in a game, but couldn't do anything with it.
Carolina had only 13 shots after the first period.
"We played a very strong first period but you saw them come out and match our intensity in the second," Ellis said. "They outworked us. This has happened a couple of times where we come out with a good start and then get off our game plan. We've got to learn from it. It's starting to cost us."
Injured Rangers defenseman Marc Staal watched from a suite high above the ice, watching his brothers Eric and Jordan, who are star forwards with the Hurricanes. Marc Staal missed his seventh game since he was struck in the right eye by a puck against Philadelphia on March 5.
"I got a chance to visit with him last night and spent some time at his apartment," Eric Staal said. "It was good to see him. He's doing good."
Stepan netted the elusive goal for the Rangers when he scored his eighth of the season at 11:06. Stepan spun around in front of Ellis and whipped a shot in after Callahan created the chance by charging the net and bumping into Ellis.
The Rangers, beaten 3-0 Saturday in Pittsburgh, scored for the first time in 120 minutes, 55 seconds — dating back two games to Callahan's second-period goal in a loss at Winnipeg on Thursday.
"The whole game, especially starting in the second period, we created a lot of chances," Gaborik said. "We were way better than we were in Pitt. This is a very important win for us to snap the losing streak and move forward to (Tuesday) night's game with confidence."
New York couldn't forge the lead in the second, but the Rangers had a 15-4 edge in the period and 20-18 overall through 40 minutes.
The Hurricanes had the better of the play in the first and turned that into the lead with 50.4 seconds left. Eric Staal, who less than a minute earlier came out of the penalty box, took a cross-zone pass in the right circle from defenseman Joni Pitkanen and fired a quick one-timer that beat Lundqvist for his 14th goal of the season.
Staal had taken a goalie interference penalty when he was shoved into Lundqvist at 16:33, wiping out the final 47 seconds of a power play Carolina received when New York defenseman Steve Eminger was called for interference.
The Hurricanes didn't generate any shots on their first advantage, called just 24 seconds in, when Gaborik was whistled for tripping Staal in the offensive zone, but Carolina led 14-6 in first-period shots.
NOTES: Eric Staal has two goals and four assists during a five-game point streak. He has six goals and 10 assists in 12 games — earning at least one point in 10. ... Alexander Semin, who had the second assist on Staal's goal, also has a five-game point streak. ... Stepan has a point in eight of 10 games, notching five goals and five assists in the spurt. ... Marc Staal's brothers said he is waiting for facial fractures to heal and for his vision to fully return. He is hopeful of returning this season.