NEW YORK – While Henrik Lundqvist went to the all-star game during the New York Rangers’ weeklong break, the rest of the team did everything possible to be ready once the second half began.
If one game is an indicator, the commitment certainly shows signs of paying off.
Lundqvist’s backup Steve Valiquette got the call Tuesday night, as the Rangers started a back-to-back set right out of the gate, and made 33 saves in New York’s 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
“We all went different directions, but we all worked out every day and we got prepared,” said Valiquette, who has five wins this season. “We didn’t just sit around in a lawn chair or a hammock and drink beer. That would’ve been counterproductive.
“We’re pros, and times have changed. The postgame hydration isn’t a Bud Light,” he added. “Everybody is very serious about the way they carry themselves. That showed tonight because we came back and were ready to play.”
Scott Gomez and Lauri Korpikoski scored first-period goals for the Rangers, who have won five of seven (5-1-1).
Brandon Dubinsky pushed the Rangers’ lead to 3-1 with 7:50 left, but Tuomo Ruutu answered 25 seconds later to tighten it up again. Valiquette started for the third time in 10 games and helped backstop the defence that kept the Hurricanes at bay in the closing minutes.
“It’s so important to stay in the moment and not get too caught up in the fact that we just gave a goal up,” Valiquette said. “Everyone stayed focused from that point on, and it seems like that’s the style of play we’re going to have to play the rest of the season – just be able to bury a team in the third period.”
Lundqvist is expected to play Wednesday night at Pittsburgh.
Ryan Bayda also scored for Carolina, and Cam Ward was solid after a shaky start. He stopped 28 shots in his 14th straight start. The Hurricanes, who entered the night eighth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, went 2-2 on a road trip that began before the break.
“Obviously, it’s not the way we were hoping to begin this last stretch,” Ward said. “Both teams looked like they had a five-day break. I thought the ice was difficult. It was a little bit chippy.
“It seemed like the puck was bouncing, and it wasn’t bouncing in our favor.”
The Rangers threatened to run away with it early when Korpikoski and Gomez connected less than 6 minutes apart in the first period.
After Carolina all-star Eric Staal turned over the puck in the Rangers’ end, Markus Naslund and Gomez raced the other way on a 2-on-1. Naslund fed a pass to Gomez, who had his shot blocked. Korpikoski trailed the play, got to the rebound in the slot, and fired in his third of the season at 4:21.
Naslund earned his second assist of the night when he found Gomez in the centre of the right circle for a one-timer that produced Gomez’s 10th goal at 10:03. That pair is finally starting to click on a line that took some time to gel along with Ryan Callahan.
“It took a little longer than we’d like,” Gomez said. “We’re moving the puck better and we’re starting to make plays. Right now we have the confidence where I know where he’s going to be and he knows where I’m going to be.”
Carolina earned the only power play of the period and outshot the Rangers 15-14 in the fast-paced frame.
The Hurricanes got on the board with 6:56 remaining in the first when captain Rod Brind’Amour forced Rangers defenceman Marc Staal – Eric’s brother – into a turnover in the right corner. Brind’Amour got the puck to Ruutu, who sent it to Bayda for a drive that squeezed past Valiquette. Bayda’s fourth of the season snapped his 36-game goal-less drought.
Carolina had the better of the play from then through the second period, when both teams had 10 shots. The Hurricanes, twice denied by shots off the post, also couldn’t take advantage of a pair of penalties against defenceman Paul Mara.
“It was a tough game. I thought for the most part, we did all right,” Bayda said. “We had lots of chances, lots of shots on net. We just didn’t quite have it.
“We didn’t quite have the killer instinct.”
Notes: The Rangers placed LW Dan Fritsche on waivers. … Naslund has multiple points in consecutive games after going 15 without doing it. Like Gomez, Naslund had a goal and assist in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over Anaheim last Tuesday. … Bayda scored his previous goal on Nov. 4 at Toronto. … Marc Staal will face his brother Jordan on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the first time he has played consecutive games against siblings. Eric went up against Jordan in the Hurricanes’ previous game last Tuesday. … The Rangers are 8-0 when Dubinsky scores a goal. … Brind’Amour had two assists.