RALEIGH---In the midst of post-game player interviews tonight, coach John Tortorella made a rare appearance---to congratulate Marty Biron with a slap in the pants.
“He wants a little air time,” said Biron, who deserved some himself for rebounding after some sub-par games with a 21-save effort in a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes last night. “I wasn’t really all over the place like I had been,” said Biron, who had allowed three or more goals in his last three starts. “It was one of his better games,” agreed Tortorella, “bouncing back after a couple games where it’s been a fight for him.”
The Eastern Conference-leading Rangers (41-15-6) grinded out their third straight win, this one without the services of captain Ryan Callahan, who watched while on crutches and wearing a walking boot on his right foot, which was badly bruised and swollen after blocking Ilya Kovalchuk’s wrister against the Devils on Monday.
X-rays were negative and Callahan said he was feeling better, but is doubtful for tonight’s game in Tampa and could be sidelined when the Bruins, whom the Rangers lead by nine points, visit Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. “It’s definitely progressing,” he said, “it’s just we don’t know how long.”
Two second-period goals, one by Artem Anisimov, on a wicked wrister over Cam Ward’s glove at 8:21, and Marian Gaborik, who poked in his 30th of the season after Derek Stepan’s shot floated high off goaltender Cam Ward and bounced toward the left post, erased a 1-0 Carolina leadon Jeff Skinner's power play goal. Brandon Prust converted a 2 on 1 break with Brian Boyle at 1:57 of the third to provide a two-goal lead thatBiron (11-3-2) and the penalty-killers protected in the third period.
“It wasn’t the prettiest way to win, said Boyle, who set up Prust’s game-winner with a backhand pass and was awarded the Broadway Hat for his performance. “They kept coming at us and we hung in there. It’s definitely huge without Cally. He sparks us.”
Leading 3-1, the Rangers survived John Mitchell’s double minor for high-sticking at 14:09 of the third. “It was a huge stand for us,” said Biron, “when they were six on four (Ward was pulled) for two power plays.” Jay Harrison scored at even strength with 40 seconds to play.
The Rangers have won all three games against the Hurricanes this season, but there were someconcerns. Michael Del Zotto, who was shoved into the goal post by Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta on Feb. 25 and injured his right hip, reaggravated it, missed the third period and will be evaluated in the morning. Dan Girardi was hurting after Jaroslav Spacek’s shot hit him on the right arm late in the third. And Brandon Dubinsky, who was penalized for throwing Jiri Tlusty’s stick, an infraction that led to Skinner’sgoal, was benched after playing just 5:25.
In the end, they survived without Callahan, who had 11 points in the last 10 games, and remain nine points ahead of the Bruins at the top of the East and edged ahead of Detroit for third place overall. Last season, the Rangers finished with 93 points; with 20 games to go, they have 88. “Cally’s a big part of this team,” said Anisimov. “We found a way to win without him. It’s the way we need to play. We hope he comes back soon.”