Ray Whitney buried his 13th goal of the season in overtime and Cam Ward made 27 saves as the Hurricanes beat the Rangers 2-1 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon for just their third win away from the RBC Center this season.
The Rangers (19-17-5) lost for the eighth time in nine games at MSG and once again failed to lend much help to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has received just 32 goals of support in his last 17 starts.
"We'd like to have a better record at home. We have to figure out how to get some wins here," said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was matched up against Carolina's Eric Staal, his brother, for most of the afternoon. "We should have had two (points) here and obviously it's disappointing to lose in overtime, but it is a point."
Whitney's game-winner came off a nice give-and-go with Matt Cullen. Whitney fed the puck to behind the net to Cullen, who hit Whitney with the return feed. He flipped it over Lundqvist and into the net to give Carolina (11-23-7) a split in this home-and-home series with the Rangers.
"Hopefully 2010 will be better than the end of '09," Whitney said.
With a healthy and sharp Ward between the pipes, that's one resolution that is easily attainable. The 25-year-old goaltender was in the mix for a spot on Team Canada's roster for the 2010 Olympics, but a slow start coupled with a freak injury in which his leg was lacerated by a skate doomed his chance of representing his country in Vancouver.
Throw out a performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 23 when he allowed 3 goals in 9 minutes and was pulled by coach Paul Maurice, and he's been looking like his old self again. He's allowed only 13 goals in those six other starts sandwiched around the clunker against the Canadiens, and he's becoming the backbone of the Hurricanes yet again.
"He's the catalyst. When he's on his game we have a chance to win," Whitney said. "Even though we lost the other night in Carolina, it was no fault of his. He was spectacular again. It's good to see he's back to the form he was before he got injured."
"I feel a lot more comfortable now," Ward said. "I don't know how many games in a row this is, but I'm feeling more confident on the ice after being out for a month."
The opportunities were there for the Rangers during this matinee, but when the pucks weren't hitting Ward, they were hitting iron. The Blueshirts hit goal posts on at least three occasions, and were once again carried by Marian Gaborik, whose League-leading 27th goal of the season tied the game in the third period and helped salvage a point.
Rangers coach John Tortorella was once again left searching for answers about the lack of offense and the numerous chances that didn’t find the back of the net.
"I thought some of our best chances were the ones we shot wide, let alone the four or five posts that we hit," Tortorella said. "We have to score goals. We hold their scoring chances to single digits, and we simply don't score. You try to stay patient, but the bottom line is we have to start scoring goals in these type of games. We lose a point because we simply don't bury a couple of our chances. It shouldn't be going in overtime."
Carolina's Tom Kostopoulos broke a scoreless tie with 46 seconds left in the second period. Jiri Tlusty had a shot from the slot blocked by defenseman Dan Girardi, but the puck came right to Kostopoulos, who buried his third of the season past Lundqvist.
The Rangers had many glorious opportunities to strike first during the second period before Kostopoulous' goal, but as has been the case for much of this season, they couldn't break through.
During a four-minute power play, the Rangers' best chance came off the stick of Ryan Callahan, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team Friday. He ripped a shot that beat Ward, but it hit off the post, then off Ward, and landed harmlessly in the crease where Ward calmly smothered it.
Later in the period the Rangers nearly scored again. Gaborik flipped a shot toward the net that deflected off the post and skittered harmlessly away from Ward's crease.
Gaborik would hit the post one more time in the final period, ripping a wrister from the left wing past Ward's catching glove and off the far post.
The chances were there. The goals were not.
"I've seen these guys score in practice; I know they can do it," Lundqvist said. "I think in a lot of games lately we create chances. Hopefully it will turn around."
Lundqvist is tied for the NHL lead in games played among goalies with New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick with 37. Lundqvist said earlier this season that if the team needs him to allow less than two goals a game to win, he'd find a way to do it.
Is Tortorella worried about the mental strain on Lundqvist that comes from playing in so many games where he has such a small margin of error?
"Hank's a mentally tough guy. Obviously a goaltender would like a little bit of a breather along the way, but Hank has to fight through like everybody else does," Tortorella said. "He can handle it. He's going to have to until we get ourselves in some sort of groove and someone comes through."
1 - 0 CAR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 CAR
Hi stick - double minor