NEW YORK – It may not have been perfect, but even for their perfectionist coach, it was good enough. Scott Gomez had a goal and an assist, Markus Naslund added two helpers, and Steve Valiquette stopped 33 shots as the Rangers (29-16-4) came back from the All-Star break with their 18th one-goal win of the season: a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes (23-21-5) Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
“We had a really good start to our game, but they scored a goal against less than adequate coverage,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “We seemed to take a step back from what we were doing. Then I thought we recovered.”
The high-octane game saw the teams combine for 29 shots in the opening period, and it was the Rangers who struck first. After Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg fell down at the Rangers blue line, Markus Naslund, Scott Gomez, and Lauri Korpikoski came in on an odd-man rush. After Gomez shot into the pad of goaltender Cam Ward, Korpikoski found the rebound in the slot for his third of the year at 4:21.
“The [puck] came kind of close to my feet, so I knew I would have time to put it towards the open net,” Korpikoski said. “I just had to push it in. You don’t have much time to think in those situations.”
New York struck again nearly six minutes later when Naslund dusted himself off from a hard hit by Tuomo Ruutu, took the puck, and found Gomez in the near circle. His drive went top shelf on Ward (28 saves), and gave the Rangers the early 2-0 lead.
“He cares about his own performance, and more importantly he realizes and cares about his team’s performance,” Renney said. “To me, Gomer will never be anything less than a guy that really cares. He’s a very passionate player, there’s no question about that. He takes the responsibility of playing for the Rangers very, very seriously.”
“Scott has really come on of late,” Naslund said of his line-mate. “He’s worked hard all year — it’s a matter of finding the right chemistry on the line. That’s a big part of an offensive player, to have that chemistry.”
“That’s a heck of a game by that trio, and certainly those two make it work offensively,” Renney said. “I see real good effort, conscientious play. I do see some creativity and attack speed, and some collaboration in doing that.”
After Ryan Bayda slid one home three minutes after Gomez tallied, the teams didn’t score again until the third period.
While Carolina got 25 shots on net in the first two periods, it seemed over half of them were point shots, and many of those were deflected by traffic in front. The havoc caused two pucks to ring loudly off the iron and the rest to be swallowed up by the Rangers quick-reacting goaltender, who earned his fifth win of the season.
“It seemed like they were getting a lot of chances from the point. They were deflecting a lot of chances from the point,” Valiquette said. “The one good thing that our team adjusted with was our first forward back in the zone was cleaning up all the garbage. That allowed me to play my game and clean up everything in front of me so there were no second and third chances.”
As the game entered its climax, another line made a key contribution. The oft-used line of Nikolai Zherdev, Brandon Dubinsky, and Aaron Voros combined for a pretty goal just passed the halfway point of the third when Zherdev got the puck at the point and calmly skated to the circle, where he sent a cross-ice pass to Dubinsky, who shot into an open net for his eighth of the season to give the Rangers a short-lived 3-1 lead.
“Hopefully we can keep it going. This is back to business, these are important games, and we need to make sure we’re ready to go and having a great push towards the end,” Dubinsky said.
“He’s one of those attacking kind of guys,” Renney said of Dubinsky, whose team is 8-0 this year when he scores. “He has to play that way; he has to be a cantankerous kind of player. He also has to play within the structure, because if he doesn’t he leaves us vulnerable.”
Carolina responded just 25 seconds later when Tuomo Ruutu got the rebound of his own shot and deposited it past Valiquette (33 saves), bringing the score back to within one at 3-2.
But that was as close as Carolina got, thanks in large part to the work of the goaltender and his teammates who blocked 20 Carolina shots.
“I’m very, very happy with the result tonight. Coming out of the break, we had five days, it would have been easy for people to look at that as a negative, but I looked at it as a positive,” Valiquette said. “I’ve gone through this before where I’ve had time off. It’s so good to have some time off, re-energize, as long as you take care of yourself.”
“I think we have to continue to give Henrik the opportunity to regroup and rest,” Renney said. “Steve has clearly demonstrated for the second year in a row that he can play the position pretty well. That’s good for us because we need him.”
Valiquette also credited the professionalism of his teammates for allowing the team to have so much jump in their step after the long break.
“We’re pros, and times have changed. It’s not the 70’s anymore, post-game hydration isn’t a Bud Light,” Valiquette joked. “Everybody is very serious about how they carry themselves, and that showed tonight. “We went our separate ways, but I gather from everybody else we all worked out every day and prepared. We didn’t just sit around in a lawn chair or a hammock and drink beer. That would have been counterproductive.”
The Rangers are now 18-4-4 in one-goal games.
New York killed off all four Hurricanes power-plays, and didn’t score on two of their own.
Zherdev leads the team with 40 points, while Gomez is second with 34.
The Rangers placed winger Dan Fritsche on waivers before the game.
New York returns to action Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Their next home game is February 3rd, when Adam Graves’ jersey will be retired in a pre-game ceremony. Fans are advised to arrive early – the ceremony will start promptly at 6:30pm.