RALEIGH, N.C. - Through most of the season, the Rangers have been stingy defensively, even against elite teams. In fact, the last time they had surrendered as many as four goals was against the Flyers on Dec. 18.
But last night, from the opening faceoff, the Rangers allowed the speedy Hurricanes to dictate the pace of the game, which started to slide downhill when Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen scored in Carolina's 16-shot first period. Only Henrik Lundqvist kept the roof from falling in.
"It's not really the way we wanted to play," Lundqvist said after the Rangers' 4-1 loss, the team's fourth in six games.
Coach John Tortorella was more blunt: "We were brutal defensively," he said. "Some of the mistakes defensively were no-brainers. Granted, we have some new bodies. We have some teaching to do. We were sloppy. And it started with some of our better players. We can't run-and-gun and we're not going to."
Although Cam Ward faced 40 shots and Lundqvist 39, the Rangers' netminder was left to fend for himself much more often. The Hurricanes swept in regularly against a team that was rarely tested in Wednesday's 7-0 win over the Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.
With the Rangers trailing 3-0, Brandon Prust spoiled Ward's shutout bid with his sixth goal, recovering his own blocked shot and going high glove side at 11:40 of the third period. Chad Kolarik (in his Rangers debut) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (in his eighth game) each recorded his first NHL point.
On the other hand, a night after his four-goal effort, Marian Gaborik had only two shots.
The Rangers are 10-3 in the second game of back-to-backs but have dropped three of the last four, perhaps a sign of debilitating injuries and some midseason fatigue.
The first of a three-game road trip that will take the Rangers to Atlanta and Washington started at a blistering pace. There were 18 shots, with rebounds galore, in an action-packed first seven minutes.
LaRose, posted in front, batted down Jeff Skinner's shot and the puck trickled through a kneeling Lundqvist at 5:39. Mats Zuccarello's desperate swipe was too late.
Carolina was 14-1-3 when scoring first, and when Zuccarello, on a breakaway, shot high and wide, the Rangers seemed to sag a bit.
"When they got the second, you just felt mentally it was going to be tough to come back," Lundqvist said. "They were a little sharper tonight."
Ward was superb early in the second, turning away Wojtek Wolski and Zuccarello in close as that line, with Derek Stepan at center, buzzed for an entire shift. Then Brandon Sutter took a short pass from Sergei Samsonov, zipped around Marc Staal, deked Lundqvist forehand-to-backhand and put the puck behind him at 5:41 for the 3-0 lead. Skinner scored his 17th at 15:51 of the third to close it out.
The Hurricanes (23-18-6) moved to within five points of the sixth-place Rangers (27-19-3) in the East, with two games in hand. Ninth-place Carolina has five points in the three games against the Rangers. The teams finish their season series here Feb. 22.