NEW YORK – The starts still aren’t going the way the New York Rangers would like, but they sure enjoyed this finish.
Brandon Dubinsky scored his first goal in 14 games and Nikolai Zherdev had three assists for the Rangers, who shook off another early deficit and surged to a 4-1 win over the slumping Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night.
After a three-game winning streak, New York dropped two straight in which its was outscored a combined 10-4 by Vancouver and Ottawa.
“The effort was good, the intentions were good, the outcome was great,” coach Tom Renney said. “When you are trying to turn things around and get yourself back on track, you can’t do it all in one shift. We wanted to, but that doesn’t work.”
On the flip side, the Coyotes lost their sixth straight (0-4-2). Wayne Gretzky’s young and talented club had several scoring chances early, but it got out of the first period in a 1-all tie despite outshooting the Rangers 15-11.
The Coyotes have only 10 goals during their skid – including three in an overtime loss at Philadelphia on Saturday.
“We’ve got to keep going. That’s our job,” captain Shane Doan said. “Someone is going to have to have a big game. Whether it’s our goaltending, whether it’s some of our guys on the blue line or up front, someone is going to have to do something.
“We’ve got to find a way to win a game and kind of get this thing going back in the right direction.”
Buoyed by the return of top centre Scott Gomez after a five-game absence due to a leg injury, the Rangers moved into a tie with Boston atop the Eastern Conference (32 points).
Blair Betts got the Rangers even in the first period, and defenceman Dan Girardi added insurance with a power-play goal in the third. Henrik Lundqvist returned to the net for the first time in five days and made 35 saves for his NHL-leading 13th win.
Gomez scored into an empty net with 27.9 seconds left.
“It’s exciting to be back,” the always-smiling Gomez said. “I probably provided a little comedy on the bench. All you want to do is be a part of it, and you hate it when you’re not in the lineup.”
Enver Lisin scored and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 32 shots for the Coyotes, who are in their worst stretch since another six-game losing streak from Feb. 7-19, 2007. They will finish a four-game trip at Columbus on Wednesday.
“It’s a tough scenario for our young guys to go through because I can see they’re getting a little bit frustrated,” Gretzky said. “We can’t find ways to score goals right now.”
The game was played cleanly with only one fight and three minor penalties whistled. The Rangers split their two power-play chances, and the Coyotes were 0-for-1.
Girardi took a pass from Zherdev at the blue-line and fired a shot through traffic to give New York a 3-1 lead 7:37 into the third.
The Rangers fell behind 1-0 for the eighth straight game when Lisin scored his second of the season 4:08 in. Lisin, playing in his fourth game with the Coyotes and second since being recalled from San Antonio of the AHL, took a pass from Olli Jokinen and slipped a shot under Lundqvist’s pad.
New York nearly broke its first-goal blues moments earlier, but Dubinsky’s drive from the high slot slammed off the crossbar behind Bryzgalov. Dubinsky found the range in the second period with his first goal since a game-winning goal at Columbus on Oct. 24.
Betts made it 1-1 with 6:27 left in the first period, showing the skills of a goal scorer that are not associated with the effective checking-line forward. He had just come on the ice and took a crisp pass from Zherdev, who found him cutting down the middle of the Phoenix zone.
Betts moved to his left with the puck on his backhand and then deftly slipped by Bryzgalov before pushing the puck into the open side with his forehand. It was his third goal in 24 games after he scored only two last season.
Dubinsky, who fought Coyotes enforcer Daniel Carcillo in the first period, made it 2-1 at 1:15 of the second with a wraparound goal. It was actually scored when defenceman Ed Jovanovski gave the puck its final push over the line as he tried to get it out of the crease.
“When they got the second one, it kind of gave them a little bit more life,” Doan said. “We had them kind of back on their heels and playing in their zone.
“We played really well, but we missed a bunch of nets and we missed a bunch of opportunities. Eventually that’s going to come back to haunt you.”
Notes: The Rangers had gone seven games without scoring in the first period. … Gretzky played the final game of his Hall of Fame career at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 1999. … The Coyotes are 3-for-33 on the power play during their skid. … Zherdev has 201 career points.