The Boston College Eagles watched the Rangers practice on Friday. Then, for 40 minutes Saturday, the Rangers played like a subpar college team.
The Carolina Hurricanes had 25 shots and the Rangers managed only 11 against veteran goalie Michael Leighton, making his second start after spending last season in the AHL.
“Our execution was non-existent . . . non-existent,” said coach Alain Vigneault, who acknowledged that his team was not prepared for an opponent the Rangers had seen four days earlier. “The first couple of shifts of the game I liked, and in the third, when the game was on the line. And there was a four-minute stretch in the second that I liked. Everything in between . . . because there are some kids in the room, I’m not going to tell you what I really think.”
In the final 20 minutes, however, the Rangers found their resolve, went back to basics and scored three goals — two by slumping Chris Kreider, a former Eagle — to emerge from the matinee with a 4-2 victory.
“It felt like [Carolina] wanted it a little bit more for two periods,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 24 saves in the first two periods. “We played our best in the last period . . . We got our will and we decided we needed this one, and that was the difference.”
With the score tied at 2 in the third period, Derek Stepan’s wraparound bounced off the post and Kreider — who hadn’t scored in seven games since returning from neck spasms — jumped on the loose puck and fired into a half-empty net at 12:25. Kreider scored his sixth of the season at 17:11 when his left-side wrister clanged the post and caromed off Leighton. And with that, the Rangers had beaten the Hurricanes at the Garden for the 12th straight time.
Stepan had a goal and two assists and Mats Zuccarello added two assists. “Our line [which had seven points] found a little chemistry,” Stepan said. “You can work extremely hard and accomplish nothing, but we were working really smart and managed to create some turnovers. Kreids is a big part of our team, and when he’s moving his feet and shooting pucks, he’s really difficult to defend. We’ve got to get him to keep shooting.”
Vigneault said the line, “which had most of our shots [eight of 11] after the second period . . . had one of their best nights in a long time, and hopefully it’s the start of a trend.’’
The Rangers were trending down before coming out for the third period. But the Blueshirts had the first eight shots of the period and Michael Grabner burst down the middle for his 13th goal at 5:54 on a pass from Brady Skjei. Carolina coach Bill Peters challenged the call, believing that Grabner was offside. A review was inconclusive.
Thirty-two seconds later, the Hurricanes tied it at 2-2 when Victor Rask’s slap shot appeared to hit Kreider in front and the puck went low past Lundqvist’s left side.
The ineffectiveness had started early in the matinee. The Rangers, who beat the Hurricanes, 3-2, on Tuesday night, had only one shot on Leighton in the remainder of the first period after Stepan’s fifth goal opened the scoring at 4:05.
Former Ranger Viktor Stalberg tied the score with a wrister from the right circle at 8:34 of the second period, his third goal in five days against the Rangers. Then the Blueshirts had two power plays late in the second period but came up empty.
“We were all pretty frustrated,” Ryan McDonagh said. “There’s nobody to blame but ourselves. We didn’t put enough pucks on their goalie. We weren’t moving our feet or thinking fast, anticipating our next play, and certainly Henrik kept us in there. We got to moving our feet, got to battling for pucks, a little more engaged, and quite simply, put pucks on the net.”