NEW YORK - When you're the high-flying Ottawa Senators, back-to-back losses constitute a slump.
After a lacklustre effort in Atlanta and a tough overtime loss at home to Chicago, the Senators were looking to get back to their winning ways. The New York Rangers provided that perfect tonic.
Chris Kelly snapped a second-period tie, and Martin Gerber came back from a day off to lead the Senators to a 3-1 victory over Sean Avery and the Rangers on Sunday night.
Gerber, who sat out the Senators' 4-3 overtime loss to Chicago on Saturday, made 34 saves to earn his fourth win in five outings. He gave up Scott Gomez's goal 3:42 in and then held off New York the rest of the way.
"It definitely was good for us to bounce back," Gerber said.
Jason Spezza and Kelly wiped out an early deficit for the Senators, who lead the Eastern Conference with 50 points (23-8-4). Ottawa dropped two straight following six consecutive victories.
That spurt came on the heels of the Senators' worst stretch of the season when they dropped seven in a row, three in overtime.
"You look around the league and you see teams in first in their division and then in a few days they're out of the playoffs," Gerber said. "It goes so quick. You have to try to come back and jump on the wagon."
Mike Fisher made it 3-1 when his shot from the right point, after a turnover by New York's Chris Drury, hit Rangers defenceman Marc Staal and caromed in at 9:08 of the third period.
The Senators took the season series 3-1 and have won 16 of 20 from the Rangers since the 2002-03 season. Ottawa won its fifth straight at Madison Square Garden and headed into the two-day holiday break on a good note.
"You get a couple of days, you don't want to be thinking negatively about a three-game losing streak," Spezza said. "We got points in our last two games, and back-to-backs are tough."
Avery returned to the Rangers after missing 11 games following wrist surgery. He jawed and jostled and hit anyone he could starting from his first shift in the opening two minutes. It just wasn't enough.
The Rangers fell to 9-5-1 in games he's played this season. New York was 8-10-3 during his two injury stints.
"I'm not going to be effective unless I get into the game. I just tried to do that," Avery said. "I've got to stay in the lineup and stay healthy."
After a strong first period, the Rangers seemed to lose energy, perhaps showing the effects of playing for the fifth time in eight days - including a quick trip to Minnesota and Colorado.
Henrik Lundqvist rebounded from consecutive games in which he allowed a total of 10 goals, and made 22 saves. The Rangers lost for the fifth time in seven games (2-3-2).
Kelly netted the go-ahead goal by cleaning up after a strong effort by Shean Donovan.
Donovan moved up and around Staal, forced to dive on his stomach to deny Donovan's progress after his stick broke, and got a shot in on Lundqvist. The rebound popped out above the crease to Kelly, who shovelled in his seventh goal to make it 2-1 with 7:44 left in the second period.
"Luckily their D broke his stick. He was kind of helpless in front," Kelly said. "Shean made a great move, and I just kind of picked up the garbage."
New York took a 1-0 lead after cycling the puck in the Ottawa zone. Jaromir Jagr sent it in front from the right boards, and Gomez put a backhanded deflection into Gerber. He found the rebound and knocked in his ninth goal at 3:42.
Since being reunited on a line with Jagr and Martin Straka three games earlier, Gomez has three goals and three assists, while Jagr has five assists.
For the third straight game, the Rangers couldn't protect a 1-0 advantage.
"We get the lead and we're just in a bad stretch right now. We're in a rut," Gomez said. "Maybe we've got to get a two-goal lead and go from there. We're not going to change anything, get the lead and keep going."
The Senators got control of the puck in the Rangers end after a neutral zone faceoff. Spezza let go a shot that appeared to dip and got by a surprised Lundqvist inside the left post with 3:44 remaining in the first.
It was a frustrating end to the period for the Rangers. They set the tone and were able to create offence to the tune of a 12-5 shots advantage.
"We had a good second period, took over the game a little bit," Spezza said. "In the third period we just played tight defensively. Gerbs made some big saves. The puck didn't want to go in for them."
Gerber looked much steadier than in New York's 5-2 win at Ottawa on Dec. 1. The Rangers snapped a five-game losing streak to the Senators that day after jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first 12 minutes.
Notes: Gomez has a nine-game point streak (four goals, eight assists). ... Spezza has points in seven straight games (seven goals, eight assists). ... The Rangers haven't won the season series from Ottawa since 2001-02.