When it comes to the spell that the Rangers have cast upon the Carolina Hurricanes over the years, Henrik Lundqvist has always been Sorcerer No. 1 but has enjoyed a long list of accomplices, too, and this season that cast has included Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, front and center.
And the list only continues to grow -- so much so, in fact, that on Friday night the guys in the video room wanted on it, and when they made their voices heard during the second period they played a part in what became the evening's most important moment.
Lundqvist made 39 saves, Zibanejad and Panarin combined for six points, and the coaches' call to challenge a second-period Carolina goal wound up being the turning point in the Rangers' latest victory over the Hurricanes, this one by a 5-3 score in the Blueshirts' first game back from the Christmas break -- and their last game of the decade at Madison Square Garden.
Afterward there was a piece of trivia being floated around the Rangers' dressing room, the fact that Lundqvist was the starting goaltender in the Rangers' first home game of the 2010s as well as in their last, both of which happened to be against Carolina. In between, the goaltender crammed in a lot of winning against the Hurricanes: Lundqvist improved to 3-0 this year against them and a staggering 24-4 spanning the last 10 seasons.
Friday's victory was the Rangers' 18th in the Hurricanes' last 19 visits to the Garden.
"For whatever reason, we find ways to win," Lundqvist said. "I don't really have an explanation for it, but sometimes you just play certain teams and you feel good about yourself and your performance, and you know what to do. And sometimes that gives you that little extra advantage, I guess."
Not to be forgotten is the advantage of having Zibanejad and Panarin aboard. Zibanejad posted his fifth multi-point game in the Rangers' last seven, this time with a pair of goals and an assist. The League co-leader in shorthanded goals got both his scores on Friday night on a Ranger power play that broke out for a 2-for-4 game on the heels of a frustrating week and a half, something that Zibanejad said "was huge for us."
"Special teams were the story of the game," said David Quinn. "We get to two power-play goals and our penalty-kill was huge" -- a perfect 5-for-5 on the night, and clicking at better than 88 percent for over a month now.
The only blemish on this night came near the end, when Brendan Lemieux left the game with what Quinn announced was a fractured hand. Lemieux was not on the bench in the late stages of the third period and the Coach had few details immediately afterward, other than his expectation that Lemieux would miss time.
Zibanejad, meanwhile, scored his first at 16:31 of the opening period off what he called "an unbelievable pass" from Chris Kreider, one that tied Carolina goaltender James Reimer in knots. Zibanejad then returned the favor to Kreider on a 2-on-1 early in the second on a night when the Hurricanes had few answers for those two. "He's such a special player, he's so underrated. He has chemistry with everyone," Kreider said of his centerman. "He makes everyone around him better. My job's easy: Just try to work for him, get him the puck."
Panarin scored his goal near the midpoint of the second and added a pair of assists, one of them a setup of Ryan Strome in the third period that not only was a skills clinic, it put the game to bed.
"There were some crucial moments of the game where we stepped up and scored some big goals," Lundqvist said. "That's pretty big for our confidence."
No moment was more crucial than what occurred a little more than five minutes into the second period, when the Rangers were trying to kill back-to-back penalties and hold the one-goal lead that Zibanejad and Kreider had supplied. Sebastian Aho, among the NHL's hottest goal scorers, managed to squeak a redirection through Lundqvist 5:28 into the frame, appearing to tie the game at 2 apiece. The Rangers' bench could see that Eric Haula might have taken a step offside in the buildup; from behind the scenes, their video team, Jerry Dineen and Sam Kelley, were giving them a push in what turned out to be the right direction.
"I thought we doing pretty good job killing the first penalty, and then back-to-back we have another one, and you can only fend them off for so long," Quinn said. "And I thought it gave us a little bit of a breather because it took a little while for that thing to be reversed. I thought we collected ourselves a little bit, and then got the all-important third one."
That came two minutes after the overturned goal, when Filip Chytil led a 3-on-1 rush that ended with Panarin digging a puck out of his feet and chipping it upstairs for his 21st goal. Suddenly what had looked like a 2-2 tie was now a 3-1 game, and the Rangers never relinquished their lead after that.
"Obviously," Strome said, "it changed the game for us."
It was the first of two times that Aho found the back of the net on Friday night, with only one of them counting -- his early-third-period goal trimmed the Rangers' lead to 4-3 with 18:20 still to play. It was Aho's 22nd goal of the season and his 19th since the start of November, which leads the NHL.
Lucas Wallmark and Brett Pesce also scored for the Hurricanes, who have allowed 17 goals during a three-game skid. James Reimer finished with 19 saves.
But after Aho cut it to 4-3, Reimer couldn't stop Strome walking in off the feed from Panarin, who did a little of everything on the play: He turned on the speed to chase down a full-ice flip from Jacob Trouba into the Carolina left-wing corner, where he won a battle with Pesce, who has him by four inches and 36 pounds. Then with barely a look he found Strome slicing down the middle and put a pass on his tape, which Strome finished off through the five-hole.
"Just a great play," Strome said. "He gave me a couple at the net that I hadn't been able to get -- I think it was my sixth or seventh shot on net, so it was good to finally get one."
It was his sixth, but maybe he was counting the one that had Reimer beat but clanged off the goalpost late in the first period. Either way, Strome can count himself among the Blueshirts who will carry some momentum into Saturday night's match in Toronto, where last March Strome scored the overtime winner in his first game as a Ranger back in his hometown.
Alexandar Georgiev stopped 44 of 45 shots in that one, which figures to give him the inside track to finish out this back-to-back set for the Blueshirts. In the meantime, Lundqvist can take his time and enjoy another victory over Carolina, the 33rd of his career in just 46 head-to-head games.
"We battled really well in front of our net, and their net," Lundqvist said. "It was fun to get this win here at home."