Henrik Lundqvist did his usual fine work against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, making 39 saves. Mika Zibanejad had two power-play goals and an assist, and Artemi Panarin had a goal and two assists.
But the most valuable players of the Rangers’ 5-3 victory over the Hurricanes just might have been video coach Jerry Dineen and video assistant Sam Kelley. They radioed down to the bench immediately after the Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho appeared to tie the score early in the second period with a power-play goal. They implored the Rangers’ coaching staff to challenge the goal on the grounds that the play was offside.
“I thought [the challenge] gave us a little bit of a breather, because it took a little while for that thing to get reversed,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. “And I thought we collected ourselves and get the all-important third one. [That was a] really big, big momentum change in the game. Jerry Dineen and Sam Kelley earned their money tonight.’’
In their first game back from the NHL’s three-day Christmas break, the Rangers took a 2-1 lead on Chris Kreider’s two-on-one goal at 1:27 of the second period before Ryan Strome was sent off for hooking at 2:39. The Rangers killed that penalty, but then Brendan Lemieux got sent off for tripping Carolina goalie James Reimer behind the net at 4:37.
Aho seemingly tied the score at 5:28, but after the Rangers challenged, the goal was disallowed and Panarin scored to make it 3-1 at 7:29.
Zibanejad, who broke an 0-for-17 power-play slump when he tied the score at 1-1 at 16:31 of the first period, made it 4-1 with his second power-play goal.
Carolina’s Brett Pesce scored at 17:11 of the second period and Aho eventually got a legitimate goal to pull the Hurricanes within 4-3 at 1:40 of the third, but Strome finished a pass from Panarin at 13:49 and the Rangers (18-15-4) held on.
They pulled within six points of the Hurricanes (22-14-2), who currently hold the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We want to stay in the race here before the All-Star break, and we got to take care of these division games and these conference games,’’ said Strome, who was given the Broadway Hat as his teammates’ pick for Player of the Game. “[Saturday’s] another big one for us [in Toronto against the Maple Leafs].’’
Strome played 20:30, which was second-most to Zibanejad’s 20:42 among Rangers forwards and third-most on the team (defenseman Jacob Trouba played 22:17).
Quinn put Strome on the first unit of the power play in an attempt to shake things up and get the man advantage going again. Whether or not Strome had anything to do with it, the power play did score for the first time in six games.
“I thought we’ve been having some pretty good looks on the power play,’’ Zibanejad said. “We haven’t been able to convert, but today we got two, so hopefully that will get us going now.’’
The penalty-killing unit did its job, too. The Rangers killed all five Carolina power plays, including one with 3:06 remaining that became a two-man advantage when the Hurricanes pulled Reimer with a little more than two minutes to go.
“Special teams were the story of the game,’’ Quinn said. “We get two power-play goals and our penalty kill was huge.’’