UNIONDALE, N.Y. – For one night, the New York Rangers’ roster shake up worked.
Playing without benched veterans Wade Redden and Ales Kotalik, the Rangers responded to coach John Tortorella’s heavy hand and broke out of their offensive woes.
Ryan Callahan had two goals and two assists, and Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves to lift the Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Islanders on Thursday night that snapped a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and gave them a split of the home-and-home series.
The Rangers (15-16-3) are ninth in the Eastern Conference – tied in points with the Islanders and Montreal – two points behind eighth-place Florida. The Rangers went 3 for 6 on the power play. The Islanders were 0 for 7.
“It is late December and the important thing is for us to become a team and play as a team and play for one another,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.”
Marian Gaborik scored his NHL-leading 24th goal and two assists, and Michal Rozsival and Vinny Prospal had two assists each to help the Rangers earn a much-needed win. If not for Lundqvist’s 14 stops in the first period and shaky goaltending from the Islanders’ Dwayne Roloson, the result likely would have been different.
“It’s happened a lot of times in this building. They come out flying and we have a tough time settling in,” Lundqvist said. “It was important for me personally, and for the team, to stay in there. I don’t know how we had the lead after the first period, but we did.”
The Rangers had scored two goals or fewer in seven straight games and 17 of the previous 21. During their 1-6-2 skid before Thursday, the Rangers netted only 15 goals. New York hadn’t had more than three goals since beating Columbus 7-4 on Nov. 23 – 10 games earlier.
Following the Rangers’ 2-1 loss at home to the Islanders on Wednesday, Tortorella angrily criticized his club’s performance that started with a first period in which the Rangers trailed 1-0 and were outshot 10-3. Redden and Kotalik paid the price in the rematch.
Lundqvist stopped 61 of 65 shots in the two-game series.
“I thought everybody contributed,” Tortorella said. “You don’t have to play the perfect game when you score some goals. Obviously, Hank was the most important guy for us. And that’s how it has to be.”
Callahan and captain Chris Drury scored in the first period, Callahan added his second power-play goal in the second, Gaborik converted during a 5-on-3 advantage in the third, and Artem Anisimov closed the barrage on the beleaguered Roloson with an even-strength tally.
The only blemishes for Lundqvist were defenceman Andrew MacDonald’s first NHL goal 9:31 into the second and a goal by Frans Nielsen with 4:46 left.
“We played well, but Lundqvist obviously had one of his better games,” Islanders rookie John Tavares said. “We played hard. It’s a little frustrating because this one we thought we could’ve had.”
Lundqvist was nearly beaten for an embarrassing tally when he raced from his net to the boards to try to beat Nate Thompson to a loose puck. Lundqvist fell down, leaving the net totally exposed, yet Thompson’s unimpeded shot from the right circle went way wide.
“I just jumped out and I think I hit his skate. … So in my opinion, that’s my save,” Lundqvist said with a laugh.
The Islanders jumped on the Rangers again in the first period on their home ice, racing out to a 9-0 edge in shots but couldn’t solve Lundqvist, who made four saves on an early power play. By the time Callahan gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 6:54 left in the first period, the shot differential was 12-2.
“When you go out and play as well as we have for the last two games and you come out with a split, it’s great, but at the same time it’s frustrating because we know we played well enough to get four points instead of two,” Roloson said.
Drury, who started on New York’s fourth line, doubled the lead to 2-0 at 17:56 with his third of the season and first in 20 games. The Rangers were outshot 14-4 in the period, but carried the two-goal edge into the second by converting on half their shot attempts.
“The only thing that resonates with me is going home with the two points. That’s it,” Drury said.
Callahan scored his ninth of the season 27 seconds into the middle period, a frame in which the Islanders had a 14-12 shots advantage.
The Rangers broke the game open in the third. Gaborik ripped a one-timer from inside the blue line at 3:37 after a slew of roughing penalties left the Islanders two men short. Anisimov’s sixth at 6:50 made it 5-1.
NOTES: Callahan previous career high for points in a game was two. … The Islanders have been outscored 12-3 in their past two home games, both losses. … D Redden and RW Kotalik were replaced by D Bobby Sanguinetti and C Erik Christensen.