What better tale as the calendar changes to a new year than a little redemption story?

           For Erik Christensen, a 26-year-old center claimed by the Rangers on waivers on Dec. 2 in what he described as perhaps his last chance to stick in the NHL after stints with three other teams, 2010 brings some hope.

           In an inspired performance in a game that coach John Tortorella called “not do-or-die, but very important” after Wednesday’s 6-0 shellacking by the Flyers at the Garden, Christensen---moved to the first line with Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky---scored his first of the season to tie the game on a 5-on-3 power play late in the first period and assisted on Dubinsky’s game-winner at 11:49 in the third that snapped a 1-1 tie with the Hurricanes.

             In his eighth game as a Ranger, Christensen logged a personal high 20:27, had five shots and won 10 of 21 faceoffs. “He played well both with the puck and without it,” said coach John Tortorella. “When we lose a playmaker like Vinny Prospal (knee surgery)...this team has some straight-ahead forwards but lacks a little bit of  playmaking in certain areas. Erik certainly stood in there and gave us that. We put him in all situations and on the power play and he was a pretty important guy for us.”

          Christensen, who had bounced around on the third and fourth lines, learned about his opportunity about two hours before the game at RBC Center.              

          “The lineup wasn’t posted until we got to the rink,” he said.  “I learned from past experience when I went from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, they put me with (Ilya) Kovalchuk, and it was a big thrill but I ended up being tentative. I was trying to look for him all the time, not doing what I can do, and so with Gabby, who’s a world-class player, you have to go in and work with him, not just look for him all the time, you have to work as a unit.”  

          With Christensen in the pivot, Dubinsky was shifted to wing and the line racked up five points. “He tried to do too much in the middle against Philly, lost the puck," said Torts, "so we put him on the left wing because we wanted him to play more of a straight-ahead game. He gets rewarded by hanging around the net and banging in the winning goal.”  

          And Gaborik recorded his 24th and 25th assists on shots that goalie Cam Ward (33 saves) blocked, but couldn’t control the rebounds.

          Christensen almost scored earlier in the first, but was called for a questionable goaltender interference. Dan Girardi’s point shot skittered past Ward just before Christensen toppled onto him, and the officials waved off the goal.

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           “My heels were an inch or two from the crease, that’s my ice,” said Christensen, “He comes out and bumps me and he falls down. I deflected it in (with his stick) then I fall over him, so the play’s dead. I didn’t think it was the right call, but I lived with it and I ended up scoring to get it back.”

              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.

            “It felt like a key moment when they scored a second goal and they didn’t allow it,” said Lundqvist, who initially broke his stick on the ice in frustration. “It was definitely the right call, especially after the one on us.”

              Lundqvist echoed Tortorella’s assessment of the turnaround a day after the debacle.  “This was one of our better games in the last couple weeks. We talked about it in the morning and right before the game, about playing with emotions; you can talk all you want about how you want to play but it all starts with emotion.”

 

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       Before the game, Tortorella said the biggest thing he wanted to see was "committment: physical, mental, emotional" and he got it.

 

         From the first period to the third, when the Rangers (19-17-4) were fortunate when Eric Staal’s low shot from the right hit the far post---one of several clangs off the iron for both sides---the Rangers continued to do many of the things lacking against Philadelphia; the defensive zone coverage improved, players initiated checks and skated with a purpose.

 

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       Marc Staal and Dan Girardi controlled the Canes top line of Eric Staal, Matt Cullen and Tuomo Ruutu. "We felt they loaded that one up, and Sully did a great job getting the match on them," the coach said. 

 

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        The first period was vastly than at Madison Square Garden, when the Flyers took a 3-0 lead and Henrik Lundqvist was yanked. Last night, the hungrier Rangers had a 14-5 edge in shots after 20 minutes.           

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                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 with about 4:40 left 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 5-on-3, Gaborik hit the post and the game remained tied after 40 minutes, with the Rangers outshooting the Canes 29-12. The Rangers had only 22 shots in the blanking by Philadelphia.

 

By the Numbers

 

              Carolina was credited with 44 hits, the Rangers 36....Ales Kotalik's assist on the PP was his first point in seven games...Voros played just 3:53, Brian Boyle 6:44 and  Enver Lisin 7:13...Artem Anisimov won five of six faceoffs, Chris Drury 15 of 26...The Rangers were 1 for 5 on the PP, Canes 1-for-3...It was Tortorella's 600th NHL game...Canes are in Garden for matinee Saturday...'Night all, on to 2010...