WINNIPEG – The New York Rangers found themselves in a familiar position Monday night and ultimately relied on an assortment of unfamiliar weapons to head home happy.
In wrapping up a seven-game season-opening road trip -- a franchise record -- the Rangers needed to execute a simple game plan against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre. Backup goaltender Martin Biron delivered a 27-save performance in his first start of the season, the Rangers capitalized twice on the power play and managed to avoid a procession to the penalty box. Those three ingredients added up to a 2-1win for the Rangers win, despite the fact they registered just 17 shots.
Eight minutes into the third period, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan erased a 1-1 tie on the team's fifth power play. After Ruslan Fedotenko drew a minor penalty following several minutes of heavy Winnipeg offensive pressure, Callahan broke down the right boards before centering a puck into the slot that glanced off Zach Bogosian's skate and past Jets goalie Chris Mason.
"We had them hemmed in there for about a minute in that shift," Mason said, "and a bounce of the puck, and their guy got loose and [Jets right wing Chris Thorburn] made a good desperation play. Unfortunately there's a penalty, and then they get a lucky goal like that."
The win capped a 3-1-0 road swing through Western Canada for the Rangers, who needed a strong effort to atone for a lackluster 2-0 loss on Saturday night to the Edmonton Oilers, after which coach John Tortorella delivered a scathing critique of his team's performance. New York opens a six-game homestand at the newly renovated Madison Square Garden on Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We're looking forward to going home," Tortorella said. "(We're) happy about that. We still have a lot of work to do to try to play the right way, but in this League, you grab your points and get out of there, because there are probably going to be times where we play one of our best games and lose."
New York began the evening ranked last in the League in power-play conversion, striking just once this season in 23 attempts while up a skater. But after working out early kinks against the Jets, New York notched two power-play tallies on five tries. On the other side, the Rangers betrayed their stature as the League's most penalized team by taking only one minor penalty.
"We were hemmed in our end zone," Tortorella said, "and not taking penalties, that's good. I just thought that we showed a lot of [courage] blocking shots."
For the Jets, the contest marked their final home appearance for 17 days, as they embark on a seven-game road swing that opens on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Road woes have plagued the Jets, who have collected only one of a possible eight road points so far this season.
"I don't think our players can hang their heads on the effort they gave," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I think we probably deserved a better fate. When you look at the difference between winning and losing in the National Hockey League, there is not a lot of difference.
"We managed the game real well. We played a good, low-scoring game and were in the game the whole time. So there is a lot of good we can take out of this game. We just have got to continue to get better and not lose sight of things.”
Biron, who admitted that he felt pressure heading into the contest, did not look like a netminder who had logged only 10 minutes of action this season. After relieving Henrik Lundqvist Saturday night in Edmonton, Tortorella started Biron against the Jets. Biron's start marked the first time over 37 regular-season and playoff games that Lundqvist had not started. The start was Biron's first since Feb. 7 against the Detroit Red Wings, and he earned his first win since beating the Washington Capitals on the road back on Jan. 24.
Biron repaid Tortorella's faith early, stopping all eight Winnipeg first-period shots, several of them strong scoring chances, and headed on his way.
"I felt pretty good," Biron said. "When I was out there, I felt comfortable. They say you're only as good as your last game. For me, you're only as good as your last few practices. My last few practices were good, so I really had to trust in that and trust that I had done the right things."
The Rangers' power-play struggles continued early against a Winnipeg penalty kill that has been strong on home ice this season. The Rangers managed just one of their two first-period shots and failed to generate any cohesion.
But the Rangers used the power play to open the second period. A Dustin Byfuglien tripping minor set up the Blueshirts' third man-advantage. After struggling to find rhythm early in the power play, Dan Girardi sent a point shot into the slot that Fedotenko redirected past Mason for a 1-0 Rangers lead at 5:31.
The Jets finally cracked Biron with five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second period. Nikolai Antropov wrestled away a loose puck from a crowd of players inside the left circle before wheeling and snapping a low shot that snuck between Biron's right pad and the post.
Biron then faced a ferocious third-period onslaught, taking eight shots in the period's first seven minutes, including a Bogosian rattler off the post. After Callahan's game-winner, however, the Jets failed to mount another serious offensive push.
The effort was not pretty, Girardi acknowledged, but the Rangers gladly collected their two points and headed home.
"Let's put it out this way -- we won three out of four [games]," Girardi said. "We all know to a man that we have to be more consistent and play a full 60 minutes."