NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New York Rangers are winning at home at their best pace in almost two decades thanks to players who were in early grade school back then.
Defenceman Dan Girardi netted a power-play goal midway through the third period and Brandon Dubinsky scored nine seconds later to break open a tight game and send the Rangers to their sixth straight win, 5-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
Girardi sent a wrist shot from the top of the right circle past goalie Cam Ward, off a perfect cross-ice pass from Brad Richards, for a power play goal at 10:47 of the third. Dubinsky’s tally, his first of the season, came off the ensuing faccoff.
The Rangers are 5-1-1 at Madison Square Garden, their best start there since 1992.
“Getting a power-play goal when we did was huge,” said Girardi, who scored while Hurricanes captain Eric Staal was in the penalty box for high-sticking him. “Then Dubie scores right away. We knew he couldn’t go all season without scoring.”
The 25-year-old Dubinsky, who scored 24 goals last season, celebrated his first of this season with a skyward scream of relief before he was mobbed by teammates.
“It’s certainly a good weight off your shoulders,” Dubinsky said. “You can’t hope for a better gift than a wide open net with the puck on your stick.”
Callahan and Brad Richards scored late in the third to cement the win.
“It’s 3-1, and we probably needed a timeout,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “I’m very disappointed with our effort. That was the turning point for sure.”
The Rangers (9-3-3) haven’t lost since squandering a three-goal third-period lead against Ottawa on Oct. 29. They last won six straight in October 2009. The Hurricanes (5-8-3) lost their fourth straight and for the fifth time in six games.
“We found a way to get another win,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It’s such a long season. A game of momentum. It’s important for us to keep at the details.”
The game marked the first meeting between the teams since Eric Staal checked his brother, Rangers defenceman Marc Staal, in the head during a game on Feb. 22 in Raleigh.
Marc Staal hasn’t played this season because of post-concussion symptoms. He finished last season but has yet to be cleared to skate through the first month of this campaign. He started having headaches during the off-season, a problem that hasn’t subsided.
Eric Staal was booed every time he touched the puck.
Sean Avery’s breakaway goal midway through the first period put the Rangers ahead 1-0. It was his first tally since returning to the Rangers after a stint in the minors. Avery picked up a loose puck after defenceman Jeff Woywitka banked it off the boards, skated behind the Hurricanes defence, and roofed the puck over Ward.
“Sure it feels good,” said Avery, who received a sustained cheer from the Garden crowd. “I’m proud to play here. That’s why you play hard. Getting two points and winning six games in a row is even bigger.”
The 31-year-old agitator had been sent to the minors before the season. He was recalled from Connecticut of the AHL last week to replace injured forward Wojtek Wolski.
“I think that was the exact type of game that I need to play and try to get it done every night,” Avery added.
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored Carolina’s lone goal at 16:22 of the second with a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist low to the glove side. Defenceman Jamie McBain set up Ponikarovsky for his third goal of the season with a pass from centre ice.
“Obviously, there is confidence that comes with a winning streak,” Callahan said. “We just have to keep the pucks crashing the net and good things will happen.”
NOTES: The Rangers are seven wins shy of 2,500 in franchise history, dating to 1926. … Since joining the NHL in 1979 as the Hartford Whalers, the Hurricanes franchise has won only 19 times in 58 visits to Madison Square Garden. … The Rangers improved to 133-89-31 with Avery in the lineup since he was acquired from Los Angeles on Feb. 5, 2007.