NEW YORK – A week off did wonders for the New York Rangers and their playoff hopes.
During a five-day break from games between last weekend and this one, the Rangers could only watch as teams pushed them below the post-season cutoff.
With a pair of home wins, New York is right back in the thick of the hunt.
Ryan Callahan scored twice and Chris Drury added a power-play goal and an assist Sunday for the Rangers, who finally beat a Western Conference team with a solid 3-1 effort against the San Jose Sharks.
That came on the heels of a relatively easy 5-1 rout over Buffalo at home Saturday. New York is back in the mix after dropping to ninth.
“It was definitely a tough game, the second of back-to-backers, especially playing against a big, physical, talented team,” forward Brendan Shanahan said. “It was a real good test for us and we really responded well.”
Henrik Lundqvist made 29 saves for the Rangers, who beat a Western team in their last chance after going 0-7-2 in the first nine.
Drury helped set up Callahan’s first-period goal to tie it before sending the Rangers on their way to another win with a goal in the second. Callahan added an empty-netter with 1.6 seconds left.
Callahan has four goals in five games after going 25 without one following a score on opening night.
“These are two big wins to build on,” he said. “We have a long road ahead of us, but we can move forward and go from here. We have a lot of character in this room from top to bottom. You have to follow your leaders and go from there.”
Lundqvist, who also stopped 29 Saturday, is 2-0 since signing a six-year contract extension with New York.
Jonathan Cheechoo had the lone goal for the Sharks, who have the fewest road losses in the NHL (17-6-3). San Jose is 4-18-3-0 against New York and hasn’t beaten the Rangers since Oct. 22, 2001.
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 30 shots in starting for the 57th time in San Jose’s 58 games this season. The Sharks are 3-3-1 in their past seven.
“When you lose a game you always want to say it wasn’t enough. I know we’re trying hard, but it wasn’t enough,” Nabokov said. “Defensively I think we played well. They were forechecking, and it was surprising a little bit how hard they played.”
The Sharks began an eight-game road trip, which continues Monday on Long Island, with their first visit to Madison Square Garden since Dec. 16, 2002.
New York went ahead 2-1, taking advantage against the NHL’s best road penalty-killers and second best overall.
After giving up a scoring chance to San Jose forward Milan Michalek, the Rangers took control of the power play. Scott Gomez raced the puck up left wing and hit the brakes near the boards. He sent a cross-ice pass to Drury, who wound up for a slap shot that beat Nabokov inside the right post at 5:44.
“It was weird,” Sharks forward Joe Thornton said. “Milan had a great opportunity then they turn around and put one in the back of our net. It was exciting hockey, but it went on the wrong end.”
New York received the advantage when Patrick Rissmiller put the puck over the glass in the San Jose zone. It was only the 11th power-play goal allowed by the Sharks on the road in 105 chances, the best percentage in the NHL. San Jose is second overall in penalty-killing, giving up 32 goals.
Callahan tied it eight seconds after the Rangers’ first power play expired.
One day after taking a 1-0 lead against Buffalo 10 seconds in and scoring four times in the first period, the Rangers settled for a tie through 20 minutes Sunday.
Drury chipped a pass from behind the right post to Callahan, who quickly put a shot past Nabokov with 8:26 left.
The Sharks grabbed a 1-0 lead 3:31 in when Cheechoo scored his 15th.
Cheechoo stood in front as Thornton worked behind the net. He swung a pass that Cheechoo pinballed in off Rangers defenceman Marek Malik and Lundqvist.
The assist gave Thornton 500 in the NHL.
“I thought it was going to be a good night for us. We were all around the net,” Thornton said. “We had a lot of chances, we just didn’t finish.
“Hopefully this will be our only loss on this trip. That’s the way we have to look at it. If we continue to keep on getting better on this trip we’ll be fine.”
Notes: The Rangers re-signed D Fedor Tyutin, one day after agreeing with fellow D Dan Girardi. … New York captain Jaromir Jagr, goal-less in 11 games, was stopped on two prime scoring chances in the third period. … Sharks D Sandis Ozolinsh, formerly of the Rangers, was scratched. C Patrick Marleau (groin) missed his third. … Drury has seven goals in nine games.