RALEIGH -- By the end of the season, the New York Rangers' 3-2 win at Carolina on Thursday night will not stick in many people's memories. It wasn't spectacular -- instead, it was symbolic of how the Rangers have played all season.
"We grinded away," coach John Tortorella said. "Marty (Biron) made some key saves at real important times in the game."
Biron extended his record to 11-3-2, but the game was a critical rebound effort personally after losing to Chicago and the New York Islanders in his last two starts in February.
While the game lacked end-to-end action for long stretches, there was no shortage of key moments in which the Rangers were able to come up big.
Carolina, which went 6-1-4 in February, tested New York by scoring the first goal of the game, a power-play tally from the slot by Jeff Skinner. But Biron kept the Hurricanes at bay during a key sequence, stopping Brandon Sutter and Andreas Nodl in a flurry around the net.
"Before we scored our first goal, Marty made some great saves," Tortorella said. "It's one of his better games, bouncing back after a couple games where it was a little bit of a fight for him. I thought he played really well tonight."
If those saves were the early turning point, the Rangers faced a more dramatic sequence near the end of the game. When Anton Stralman took a high-sticking double minor with less than six minutes remaining, the Rangers patiently turned away the Hurricanes, limiting them to three power-play shots and preserving a 3-1 lead.
"The four-minute PK was huge," said Biron, who stopped 21 shots. "We were able to kill off some big penalties, but especially that 6-on-4 (with an extra attacker for Carolina). It was a huge stand for us. That was the game for us, to keep them off the board."
In between, New York generated enough offense to fend off the Hurricanes. Artem Anisimov tied the game in the second period, taking a pass off the left-wing boards from Marian Gaborik and beating goaltender Cam Ward. But it was Derek Stepan, who earned a pair of assists, who drew praise from Tortorella for winning the puck from Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk.
"Derek Stepan makes a great play on the boards in the neutral zone, prior to (Anisimov's) goal," the coach said. "He wins a battle there, so we get going offensively."
Gaborik 30th goal of the season put the Rangers on top late in the second period. Stepan's shot from near the goal line deflected off Ward's shoulder before settling in the crease for an easy tap-in. Gaborik, bouncing back after a 22-goal season last year, was glad to hit the milestone.
"It feels nice always," said Gaborik, who has reached the 30-goal plateau seven times. "But we still have a lot of games left, so hopefully we can put up some more goals."
Brandon Prust finished a 2-on-1 break to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the third, setting up the tense four-minute penalty kill.
Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison added an even-strength goal with less than 40 seconds remaining to provide the final margin.
What the game lacked in style, it made up for in efficiency, something the Rangers (41-15-6) have demonstrated all season.
"We have a very balanced team," Gaborik said. "Everybody can play. We're rolling all for lines and everybody did their job. It was a team effort with Marty making a lot of great saves."
It was another night on which the Hurricanes came close without winning.
"They block a lot of shots and make it ugly in front of their net," said captain Eric Staal, whose two helpers established a franchise-record nine-game assist streak. "They paid the price and that was the difference in this one.
"I'll give credit to their penalty kill. They did a great job of getting into the lanes and blocking some shots. We probably could have executed better, but they are good in those areas."
The Hurricanes, who no longer resemble the team that fell to the bottom of the Eastern Conference early in the season, played on nearly even terms despite losing their third game in three tries against the Rangers.
"There's a reason why they're at the top," coach Kirk Muller said. "There's no surprises in their game. They're a good, big, strong team. Our guys knew it was going to be that kind of game. I thought we were there, but we just fell short."
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan spent the game in a walking boot in the press box, missing his first game of the season. He took a puck off the inside of his right foot above the arch in New York's 2-0 win over New Jersey on Monday. He stayed in the game, scoring a goal and adding an assist. He confirmed that X-rays taken after that game showed his right foot was not broken.
"It's when I took the skate off that it poofed up," Callahan said.
Callahan is the Rangers' second-leading goal-scorer with 25. With New York slated to play at Tampa Bay on Friday night, he was cautious assessing whether he might play.
"It's definitely better today than it was yesterday," he said. "It's progressing. I'll just have to see how the swelling is each morning."
1 - 0 CAR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NYR
3 - 1 NYR
3 - 2 NYR
Michael Del Zotto
Hi stick - double minor