RALEIGH, N.C. -- Through most of the season, the Rangers have been stingy defensively, even against elite teams. In fact, the last time they had surrendered four goals was against the Flyers on Dec. 18.
But tonight, from the opening faceoff, the Blueshirts allowed the speedy Hurricanes to dictate the pace of the game, which started to slide downhill when Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen scored in Carolina's 16-shot first period. Only Henrik Lundqvist kept the roof from falling in.
“It’s not really the way we wanted to play,” said Lundqvist after the 4-1 loss, the team’s fourth in six games. Coach John Tortorella was blunter: “We were brutal defensively,” he said. “Some of the mistakes defensively were no-brainers. Granted, we have some new bodies. We have some teaching to do. We were sloppy. And it started with some of our better players. We can’t run-and-gun and we’re not going to.”
Although Cam Ward faced 40 shots and Lundqvist, 39, the Rangers netminder was left to fend for himself far more often. The Hurricanes swept in regularly against a team that was rarely tested in Wednesday’s 7-0 whipping of the Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.
Trailing 3-0, Brandon Prust spoiled Ward’s shutout bid with his sixth goal of the season when he recovered his own blocked shot and went high glove side at 11:40 of the third period. Chad Kolarik, in his Rangers debut, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, in his eighth game, each recorded assists for their first NHL points. On the other hand, Marian Gaborik, a night after his four-goal effort, had just two shots
The Rangers are now 10-3 in the second game of back to backs, but have dropped three of the last four, perhaps a sign of the debilitating injuries and some mid-season fatigue.
The first of a three-game road trip that will take the Rangers to Atlanta and Washington started at a blistering pace. There were 18 shots, with rebounds galore, in an action-packed first seven minutes.
Larose, posted in front, batted down Jeff Skinner’s shot and the puck trickled through a kneeling Lundqvist at 5:39. Mats Zuccarello’s desperate swipe was too late. Carolina was 14-1-3 when scoring first, and when Zuccarello, on a breakaway, shot high and wide, the Rangers seemed to sag a bit. The Canes added a second goal at 14:43 with Michael Sauer off for tripping. Jokinen deflected Joe Corvo’s point shot past Lundqvist for his sixth goal in the last six games.
“When they got the second, you just felt mentally it was going to be tough to come back,” said Lundqvist. “They were a little sharper tonight.”
Ward was superb early in the second, turning away Wojtek Wolski and Zuccarello in close, as that line, with Derek Stepan at center, buzzed for an entire shift. Then Brandon Sutter, on the left side of the neutral zone, took a short pass from Sergei Samsonov, zipped around Marc Staal, deked Lundqvist forehand-to-backhand, and put the puck behind him at 5:41 for the 3-0 lead. Rookie Jeff Skinner scored his 17th to restore the three-goal lead at 15:51 of the third.
With the win, the Hurricanes (24-18-6) moved to within five points of the sixth-place Rangers (27-19-3) in the East, with two games in hand. Ninth-place Carolina has five points in the three games against the Rangers, and the teams conclude the season series here on Feb. 22.