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Rangers edge Bruins in Avery's return to MSG

by Brian Compton
Sean Avery returned to Madison Square Garden as a New York Ranger for the first time in almost a year and provided the team with exactly what it was hoping for -- a spark.
He didn't score, but the pesky forward recorded an assist and Nikolai Zherdev broke a 3-3 tie with 6:22 remaining in regulation as the Blueshirts earned a hard-fought 4-3 win against the top-seeded Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon.
With the victory, the Rangers improved to 3-1-1 under new coach John Tortorella. New York has also won three straight games for the first time since Jan. 10-16.
''Obviously the two points feel real good,'' Avery said. ''On a personal note, it felt good to be at home and playing for the fans, just hearing them with me at the Garden.''
Things were looking good early until the Rangers blew a 3-1 lead early in the third period. Zdeno Chara and Michael Ryder scored just 1:35 apart to silence the crowd. Chara's came on a rocket from the point, while Ryder tied it after Wade Redden failed to intercept Marc Savard's cross-ice feed on a power-play tally.
But Zherdev scored what proved to be the game-winner at 13:38, as Marc Staal's dump-in took a wicked bounce off the end boards and went right in front to Zherdev, who put it past an out-of-position Manny Fernandez for his 19th goal of the season.
"We bent, we struggled for several minutes there in the third, but we still found a way to win a hockey game," Tortorella said. "You're never going to be playing a perfect hockey game. So it's about finding ways to get points with the short strokes now here at the end of the year. I'm happy with the club."
Nik Antropov, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on deadline day, scored his first goal as a Ranger at 3:01 of the second period. The Russian winger broke a scoreless tie on a pretty give-and-go with Chris Drury, as he rifled a gorgeous wrist shot from between the circles past Fernandez for his 22nd goal of the season.
"Playing here at The Garden is something different than playing in Toronto," said Antropov, who entered the NHL with the Maple Leafs in 1999. "The fans are into it the whole game and it's a great atmosphere. And I am glad we won with this great fan support we have."
Chuck Kobasew tied the game exactly two minutes later when he beat Henrik Lundqvist (36 saves) on a breakaway, but the Rangers responded with a power-play goal from Scott Gomez at 12:12 before Ryan Callahan poked a loose puck past Fernandez just 4:14 later. Fernandez has lost his last five starts (0-3-2).
''Good teams will find ways to correct this, and we're a good team,'' defenseman Aaron Ward said of the Bruins, who lead the NHL with 95 points. ''We've shown ourselves to be capable for the first few months. We haven't lost it, we've just gotten away from it.''
Lundqvist stopped 19 of 21 shots in the third period, but the Rangers' goaltender is finally getting some help from his offense. New York has scored at least three goals in each of the wins under Tortorella after netting a total of six in the previous four contests. The Rangers will visit the Carolina Hurricanes in a pivotal game on Monday night.
"Obviously the two points feel real good.  On a personal note, it felt good to be at home and playing for the fans, just hearing them with me at the Garden." -- Sean Avery
''It's important that the guys continue to grow in confidence with this, but they also have to understand where we're at,'' Tortorella said. ''We have to try to do the same things more consistently (Monday).''
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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