ST. LOUIS - John Tortorella sounded like a disgruntled major-league baseball manager talking about a starter after a low-scoring loss. Goaltender Martin Biron, he said before last night's game, had played well enough to win last Sunday in Florida, but "we just didn't give him any run support at all."
Last night, the Rangers' bats - er, sticks - weren't silent again, but they didn't make it easy for Biron in a 2-1 win over the Blues that produced a sweep of the two-game road trip. Derek Stepan and Sean Avery scored second-period goals.
Biron, signed in July to a two-year contract, has spelled Henrik Lundqvist superbly in the first half of the season, posting a 6-3 record and a 2.39 goals-against-average in 11 appearances. He held his ground last night, especially in the second period, when the Rangers took a 2-1 lead. And along with Biron, who finished with 23 saves, the penalty-kill secured the win in the third.
The Blues controlled play for the first 10 minutes of the final period, but the Rangers collapsed in front of Biron, taking away centering passes, and the goalkeeper absorbed shots by Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to preserve the lead.
Then came the turning point. When Avery was whistled for bloodying Alex Pietrangelo in the Blues' zone, the Rangers forward was assessed a double-minor. But led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the Rangers allowed only one shot during the four-minute power play and the Blues were 0-for-6 with 5:35 left in regulation.
"We took the wind out of their sails with the four-minute penalty kill," Tortorella said. "That's huge. We weren't spot on; our team's tired; we're a little bit beat up. But we grinded. That's who we are."
With the win, the Rangers (25-15-3) lifted their league-leading road record to 15-7-1. They are 10-1 in the second games of back-to-back this season. It was their first win in regulation here since 2000.
"We played extremely well in the third period," Biron said. "In the four-minute kill, we didn't give them anything. What's been working is playing hard, showing resiliency. The third periods have been our best."
The Blues certainly weren't at their best in the first period, with only two shots on Biron. They did not have a shot in the final 16:18 of the period.
But in the second, on their fourth shot of the game, the Blues struck first, as Eric Brewer's low wrister from the left point was tipped by Brad Winchester past Biron at 2:13. Biron kept it 1-0 with a glove save on a shorthanded breakaway by B. J. Crombeen.
"Key, key save," Tortorella said. "The backup's there not just to spell, he's there to win games. He's done his job and kept us in the hunt here."
The Rangers responded when Mats Zuccarello, whose lone goal in the shootout in Dallas gave the Rangers a 3-2 win Friday, found Stepan heading to the net; the rookie center deked Jaroslav Halak and went five-hole to tie the score at 9:12 in the second.
Avery then jumped on the rebound of Marian Gaborik's shot from the doorstep - which hit the crossbar and dropped on the line behind Jaroslav Halak - and poked the puck in at 15:26. That turned out to be just enough.