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Rangers come up with win to close out 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. - After being trounced by the Flyers at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, Rangers coach John Tortorella wanted to see more "commitment - "physical, mental, emotional" against the Hurricanes last night. He got all three.

Brandon Dubinsky's putback of Marian Gaborik's shot at 11:49 of the third period was just enough to snap a two-game losing streak and start 2010 with a 2-1 win and a celebration.

It was the seventh goal of the season for Dubinsky, who was moved from center to left wing after a minus-4 in the Rangers' 6-0 loss to Philadelphia.

In the third period, the Rangers (19-17-4) were fortunate when Eric Staal's low shot hit the far post, one of several rings of the iron for both sides. But the Rangers continued to do many things they didn't against Philadelphia. The defensive zone coverage improved, players initiated checks and they skated with a purpose.

An unlikely candidate, Erik Christensen, provided an early boost with a goal, and he added the secondary assist on Dubinsky's tally.

After Joni Pitkanen gave Carolina a 1-0 lead on a four-on-three in the first period - the fifth consecutive game that the Rangers have gone down 1-0 - Christensen, positioned in the right circle, lifted Gaborik's rebound past Cam Ward for his first goal of the season to tie the game during a five-on-three.

It all began with a first period vastly different from the one at the Garden, when the Flyers took a 3-0 lead and Henrik Lundqvist was yanked. This time the Rangers had a 14-5 edge in shots after 20 minutes.

A Carolina goal also was nullified after Brandon Sutter slammed Lundqvist against the post with 9:42 left in the second period as the puck bounced into the net.

Overall, the game was crisper and testier. Aaron Voros decisioned Tom Kostopoulos at 7:59 of the second. Gaborik just missed giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the second when he shot high on a solo rush. And Ward got a piece of Ales Kotalik's wrister from in front moments later. On a short five-on-three, Gaborik hit the post and the game remained tied after 40 minutes, with the Rangers outshooting the Hurricanes 29-12. The Rangers had only 22 shots in the blanking by Philadelphia.

At the halfway point of the season, only the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference is keeping the Rangers (who had won only 11 of 31 games before last night's match) on any path to their fifth playoff appearance in as many years.

Unless the Rangers, wavering at .500 (with 12 losses in 20 games at the Garden) and handcuffed by some hefty contracts, can dispatch clubs such as Atlanta, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and the Islanders, who are bunched around them in the standings, an early vacation awaits.

The challenges are daunting - they face 17 games in January, including the back end of this home-and-home with Carolina Saturday afternoon. And Vinny Prospal, the team's second-leading scorer with 32 points, will miss at least two weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery.

The Rangers, who had dropped two straight, don't have the depth of the Penguins, the offensive skill of the Flyers or, so far, the consistent work ethic of the Devils and Islanders.

Top forward prospect Evgeny Grachev, who Tortorella had speculated would contribute later this season, has struggled in Hartford, with two points in the last 13 games.

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