NEW YORK – Tom Renney’s night started with a rousing ovation at Madison Square Garden and ended with him standing at his post-game news conference after he couldn’t get his chair untangled from the table.
In between, the coach led the New York Rangers to their third straight win – even if the process wasn’t pretty.
Brandon Dubinsky scored once and added two assists, and newcomers Wade Redden, Aaron Voros and Nikolai Zherdev chipped in with goals, too, leading the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over the vastly improved Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.
Fresh off last weekend’s season-opening sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Czech Republic, the Rangers showed no signs of jet lag in winning their home opener and starting 3-0 for the first time since 1989.
“It’s very important provided we recognize that we weren’t real polished,” Renney said.
When he was introduced during pre-game ceremonies at the home opener, cheers and chants filled the Garden for the coach who has guided the Rangers to the second round of the playoffs each of the previous two seasons.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Renney said about the often-fickle fans. “This is New York.”
Redden, the Rangers’ biggest off-season addition on defence, gave New York a 1-0 lead 6:47 in. But later in the first period, Chicago’s Brian Campbell – who netted the biggest deal for a free-agent defenceman during the summer – turned an end-to-end rush into a goal for reigning NHL rookie of the year Patrick Kane.
Moments after Duncan Keith got the Blackhawks to 3-2 in their season opener at 7:13 of the third, Zherdev snapped in a shot off passes from Voros and Dubinsky to make it a two-goal game with 10:27 left.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 shots to improve to 3-0, building off two 2-1 wins against Tampa Bay.
“Those two wins in Europe were nice, but if we don’t come back here and take care of business in our home opener, it kind of makes it a moot point,” Voros said. “I don’t think we necessarily had the best game in the world … but all in all I think we played pretty well.”
Cristobal Huet had a bit of a shaky start in goal for the Blackhawks, who lured him away from Washington with a four-year, US$22.45-million deal. Former starter Nikolai Khabibulin, who cleared waivers last week, watched from the bench as he began the final season of his four-year, $27 million contract.
Huet kicked away a shot by Rangers captain Chris Drury, but deflected it right to Redden for a drive into a wide-open right side. He made 25 saves and is expected back in goal Saturday in Washington.
“I’m disappointed to lose the first game,” Huet said. “We made some mistakes and I didn’t help the team at the moment they needed me.”
Campbell paid instant dividends on his eight-year, $57.12-million deal, racing the puck all the way up the ice and banking it off the left side of the net to Kane, who tied it 1-all with 2:42 left in the first.
“That was a great play,” Kane said. “That’s why he was brought in here.”
Dubinsky made the second period his own, assisting on Voros’ first goal with the Rangers and then stretching the lead to two 10 minutes later.
After roaring off the bench for his first shift of the game and crossing the ice to land a couple of high-energy hits, Dubinsky furnished more tangible results. He challenged Chicago centre Dave Bolland, who couldn’t quite get control of the puck that landed in his skates, and stripped it away. Dubinsky sent a quick pass to Voros for a one-timer from one knee that gave New York a 2-1 edge at 5:15.
“I want to be that player that fans like because I’m willing to put it on the line every night for my teammates,” said the 22-year-old Dubinsky, in his second NHL season. “That’s kind of my M.O.”
Voros returned the favour, sort of, but wasn’t credited with an assist on Dubinsky’s second goal of the new season. Zherdev chipped the puck out of the New York zone into neutral ice, where Voros pressured defenceman Brent Sopel into a turnover. Dubinsky got the loose puck and raced alone down the slot, roofing a shot into the upper right corner with 4:24 left in the second.
Notes: The ceremonial faceoff was handled by former Rangers stars Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate and Adam Graves, who will have their numbers retired in February. … The Blackhawks have opened their season against the Rangers nine times, three in New York. … New York substituted Fredrik Sjostrom for scratched RW Petr Prucha, who started the first two games in his native Czech Republic. … Chicago opened on the road for the third straight season.