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Ward, Hurricanes blank Rangers

by Brian Hunter
Watching the New York Rangers' offense perk up over the last several games, Steve Valiquette had to feel optimistic taking the ice Monday for his first start in over a month.

Unfortunately for the backup goaltender, the Rangers reverted to the scoring woes that led in part to John Tortorella taking over for the fired Tom Renney in the first place. And by the end of the night, they found themselves outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season.

Cam Ward stopped 28 shots for his fifth shutout of the season and Joe Corvo's goal midway through the second period held up as the game-winner as the Carolina Hurricanes went on to a 3-0 win over the Blueshirts at RBC Center.

In the process, they jumped ahead of New York, as well as idle Florida and Pittsburgh, into sixth in the East with 77 points. Fifth-place Montreal, which fired coach Guy Carbonneau earlier Monday, also has 77 points but two games in hand.

"It was a playoff game, in our eyes," Ward said. "Look at the standings. Everybody knows what's at stake."

The Panthers, Penguins and Rangers all have 76 points, but after tiebreakers New York slips to ninth place. The Rangers opened the season with five straight wins and a franchise-best 10-2-1 record for the month of October, and were the top seed in the East for most of the season's first half before faltering badly.

A major reason for the slump has been an offense that ranks in the bottom five in the NHL in goals. The Rangers erupted to score 14 times in their previous three games, capped by a 4-3 win Sunday afternoon over the Bruins, the current leaders in the East. They couldn't get anything generated against the Hurricanes, though, and failed in a bid to win four in a row for the first time since that stellar opening month.

"We're just not going to win if we don't score goals," Tortorella said. "We were still there going into the third period, but I just don't think we were consistent with our forecheck. We didn't have the puck enough."

Rod Brind'Amour added a power-play goal in the third for Carolina and Tuomo Ruutu scored into an empty net in the final minute. Ray Whitney collected a pair of assists. The Hurricanes succeeded in winning their fourth straight to match a season-high originally achieved from Dec. 31-Jan. 6.

"It's huge. We knew what was at stake here," Ward said. "Obviously this was a big game for our hockey club along with the Rangers. We knew they had a tough one against Boston yesterday and we just wanted to come and get a good start. I was surprised -- they competed, they played very aggressive and we stayed composed."

Valiquette finished with 33 saves in faring much better than his previous start, a 10-2 loss in Dallas on Feb. 6. Since then, his only game action had come in a relief appearance against Philadelphia nine days later.

"He certainly gave us a chance," Tortorella said of Valiquette. "I have no problem with his part. You need to have the puck, and we're working on having the puck. ... You get no run support and it's a loss for us."

Both goalies were sharp in the first period, which saw the Hurricanes enjoy a 9-7 advantage in shots. Each team put 13 shots on goal in the second, and Carolina broke through at the 9:01 mark on Corvo's 13th of the season.

Matt Cullen brought the puck up the boards into the Rangers' zone and threw it at the net, off Valiquette's pads. Corvo was able to swoop in and tap home the rebound for a 1-0 lead.

"I just had a weird feeling that there was going to be something laying there," Corvo said.

Ward protected it into the third when the Hurricanes' captain gave him some breathing room. After a hooking penalty to Nik Antropov, Brind'Amour skated into the left circle on the ensuing power play and one-timed a Whitney feed past Valiquette at 3:41 for his 10th goal and second in as many games.

"Roddy's still smart enough to know where to go and what to do," Whitney said. "He's still got the shot -- there's no secret there."

Ruutu, who had a career-high 23 goals during his rookie season with Chicago in 2005-06, netted his 20th with 25 seconds remaining after the Rangers pulled Valiquette for a sixth attacker.

"It was a playoff game, in our eyes.  Look at the standings. Everybody knows what's at stake." -- Cam Ward
Although they won by a three-goal margin, this game couldn't have been any more different than Carolina's previous victory, a 9-3 demolition of Tampa Bay on Saturday.
"This game was a lot more fun to coach, and I think if you went around the room, it's a lot more satisfying," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "It's the difference between potato chips and steak."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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