NEW YORK – An old face provided the energy, a new one powered the offence.
The New York Rangers are suddenly on a win streak and believing this season might turn out well, after all.
Sean Avery was warmly welcomed by Rangers fans in his first home game at Madison Square Garden in nearly a year while newcomer Nik Antropov had a goal and assist Sunday to lead New York to a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Nikolai Zherdev scored the go-ahead goal with 6:22 left to give the Rangers their first three-game win streak since Jan. 10-16.
“It is not like we are still sitting pretty in the standings,” forward Scott Gomez said after the victory gave the Rangers a little breathing room in the Eastern Conference playoff race. “Let’s not get carried away, it is just some wins.
“We will enjoy it, but we have a huge game (Monday), and that is our focus.”
The Rangers will next visit the Carolina Hurricanes, who sit one point behind them near the post-season cutoff.
New York, 3-1-1 since John Tortorella replaced fired coach Tom Renney, has scored at least three goals in each of the wins after netting a total of six in the previous four contests.
“It’s important that the guys continue to grow in confidence with this, but they also have to understand where we’re at,” Tortorella said. “We have to try to do the same things more consistently (Monday).”
Avery, the NHL’s premier pest, landed a hit on his first shift and drew the ire of Milan Lucic, Marc Savard and Mark Recchi during an eventful first period in which he nearly scored and almost set up a goal.
Avery, who rejoined the Rangers this week after being banished by the Dallas Stars following crude comments he made in December, recorded his first point in his second stint with New York. He assisted on Ryan Callahan’s second-period goal that gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead, but the edge was gone before four minutes elapsed in the third.
Zdeno Chara got Boston to within one by beating Henrik Lundqvist with a slapshot 2:12 into the third while the teams skated four aside. Michael Ryder tied it 1:35 later with 10 seconds left on Dan Girardi’s four-minute, high-sticking penalty.
Chuck Kobasew had a second-period goal on a breakaway to make it 1-1.
Zherdev netted the winner against Manny Fernandez, who got caught out of position while chasing Marc Staal’s shot that went wide. The puck slid past the left post and bounced off the end boards and out the right side to Zherdev, who scored his 19th goal.
“For whatever reason, I overplayed it and it comes back to bite me,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez made 26 saves but dropped his fifth straight since Jan. 8 (0-3-2) while backing up Tim Thomas. Boston leads New Jersey by eight points in the race for the top seed in the East despite a 1-3-1 skid.
“Good teams will find ways to correct this, and we’re a good team,” defenceman Aaron Ward said of the Bruins, who lead the NHL with 95 points. “We’ve shown ourselves to be capable for the first few months.
“We haven’t lost it, we’ve just gotten away from it.”
In Avery’s previous Rangers home game, he suffered a lacerated spleen in Game 3 of last year’s second-round playoff series against Pittsburgh. He signed a four-year deal with Dallas during the summer, but was sent away by the Stars following public remarks regarding players dating his former girlfriends.
He heard his name chanted when he first hit the ice 2:53 in and went right after P.J. Axelsson along the boards. Avery got tangled with Lucic and Savard near the benches later in the first and then had an exchange with Recchi. Lucic also fell on Avery along the boards.
The biggest cheer came when his assist was announced to the adoring crowd, where several fans sported jerseys with his name on the back.
“Obviously the two points feel real good,” Avery said. “On a personal note, it felt good to be at home and playing for the fans, just hearing them with me at the Garden.”
Antropov gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 3:01 into the second, and Kobasew tied it two minutes later. Gomez restored New York’s lead with 7:48 left in the period and Callahan made it 3-1 at 16:26 with a shot that squeezed through Fernandez as he spun in the crease trying to locate the puck.
“It’s a new start for me,” said Antropov, acquired this week from Toronto. “A new team. A great team.
“New York, it’s just an awesome feeling.”
Lundqvist finished with 36 saves, and held off Boston in the final 1:22 after Avery took an interference penalty.
Notes: Bruins D Steve Montador, acquired Wednesday, missed his second straight game (illness). C Stephane Yelle also sat out after taking a hard hit Saturday against Chicago. … D Derek Morris assisted on Gomez’s goal for his first point since joining the Rangers this week. … New York is 28-3-2 when scoring at least three goals.
Reds pitcher Micah Owings throws four scoreless innings in 6-5 win over Jays
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SARASOTA, Fla. – Micah Owings pitched four scoreless innings, aiding his bid to become the Reds’ fifth starter, in Cincinnati’s 6-5 victory in 10 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
Scott Rolen doubled and hit his first spring homer off Reds closer Francisco Cordero with the bases empty in the seventh for the Blue Jays.
Cordero also gave up a two-run homer to J.P. Arencibia in his one inning of work. The right-hander had an X-ray on his right ankle earlier Sunday – the same ankle where doctors removed a bone spur in September. He has had stiffness there recently.
“His velocity was there but his location was off,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s a good sign. Once he gets his location, he’ll be fine. He started slow last spring.”
Owings gave up one hit and finished with six strikeouts. He struck out five of the first seven batters.
Adam Rosales hit two RBI singles for the Reds, including one in the 10th off Toronto’s Luis Perez.
Jonny Gomes, trying to resurrect a career that crashed last season in Tampa Bay, followed Brandon Phillips’ single with a two-run homer in the fourth off Brett Cecil.
Gomes, a non-tendered free agent who signed a minor league contract with Cincinnati in January, played first base. Gomes batted .182 last year.
“I’d never recommend being non-tendered to any ballplayer, but it will definitely get you ready for spring training,” Gomes said. “I got ready for it – my legs, arms, everything – to be ready for anything. Sure enough they dropped first base on me. I’m learning on the fly.”
David Purcey, making his first spring training start, shut down the Reds for the first three innings.
“It was good to get back in the swing of things. It was the first time in front of a crowd,” said Purcey, who has been penciled as the Blue Jays’ No. 3 starter. “I can’t control where they put me or where they don’t. The only thing I can do is go out there and try to throw strikes.”
Purcey hit a batter and walked two.
“The first inning I was trying to do too much. The first inning I was high, the second inning I was below the strike zone and the third inning I finally found it. I was throwing my curve for strikes.”
Cecil, Toronto’s top pitching prospect, followed with three earned runs and four hits over 3 1/3 innings.
The Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez was hitless in three at bats, striking out twice. He was again the designated hitter while he recovers from a compression fracture in his left knee, but may play in the field Tuesday against the New York Yankees.