John Tortorella juggled lines and defense pairings. Marian Gaborik moved to left wing. Ales Kotalik, scratched for six games, was on the second line and re-installed on the power play. Sean Avery went to the fourth line.
None of that helped as the last-place Hurricanes struck twice in the first 3:36 of the opening period, as Henrik Lundqvist cracked, and the Rangers were sent to a 5-1 loss at the Garden last night. It was their fourth consecutive defeat. It was only the sixth road win for Carolina.
When Lundqvist stopped a routine shot moments later, a sprinkling of jeers were aimed at him. "I played like -- ," said Lundqvist, who made 19 saves. "I'm thinking too much. I've just got to go out there and play. I don't have any excuse. There's no way we can win when I play like this."
The tailspinning Blueshirts, who have lost seven of nine, have only had a lead for 31 seconds in the last four games and depart Thursday for a tough three-game West Coast road trip. At least the Blueshirts are above .500 on the road (12-10-3). At home, where they won 26 games last season, they have fallen to 12-13-4.
Carolina took a 2-0 lead in the first 3:36, with a between-the-legs deflection by Patrick Dwyer and Lundqvist's whiff on Eric Staal's sharp angle shot coming 25 seconds apart. Falling behind "mounts on you," Tortorella said. "The second one hurts. But I thought we played better in the second and third periods. We had chances, just couldn't finish."
After only one shot in the final half of the period, the Rangers had 22 shots in the second - a season high - but the tone of the game changed again in a New York minute. Ahead 2-1 against Pittsburgh on Monday, the Penguins tied the game 31 seconds later. Last night, Ryan Callahan tipped Marc Staal's point shot to cut a 2-0 deficit in half at 1:24 of the second, but the Hurricanes responded 41 seconds later. Andrew Alberts aimed his blue-line wrister to the right of Lundqvist toward Sergei Samsonov, who redirected the puck to restore the two-goal lead at 2:05. Wade Redden, the main culprit, was benched for the game afterward.
"Instead of us having the momentum, we're trailing by two again," Vinny Prospal said after a closed-door postgame meeting. "There's a lot of guys who've been through it. There are times when you score from the corner and there are times you can't score. We have to start doing it in practice."
On Tuesday, the Rangers (24-23-7) had practiced the power play. Yet on three opportunities with the man advantage, the Rangers mustered six shots and are 3-for-34.
Samsonov also scored at 7:51 of the third, soon after Cam Ward had reached back and batted a puck off the goal line. At 13:10 of the third, Staal tallied his second of the night during a 5-on-3, blasting a shot past Lundqvist, who had lost his stick in traffic.
Lundqvist isn't alone in his misery. Ward (37 saves) stopped Gaborik (one goal in last 10 games) on his first shot from the left of the crease with just over two minutes to play in the second. "He's pressing," Tortorella said. "He wants to get us out of this jam."