RALEIGH, N.C. - The Hurricanes had scored 20 goals in their last three wins. Monday night, they needed just one to edge the suddenly silent Rangers.
A smothering defense and a perfect evening by goaltender Cam Ward resulted in a 3-0 win over the sluggish Rangers, who looked much as they did in the final month of the Tom Renney regime.
The Rangers were blanked for the seventh time in regulation this season.
The Rangers, who have 15 games left, remained tied for seventh in the East with Florida and Pittsburgh with 76 points. But the Panthers (who have played one fewer game) and the Penguins (who have one more win in the same number of games) technically are ahead.
The Hurricanes, who have won four straight and nine of 11 at home against the Rangers -- leapfrogged three teams into a tie for fifth place with Montreal with 77 points.
"I know you end up looking at them," said Rangers coach John Tortorella, whose record fell to 3-2-1, "but the standings change every 24 hours."
Still, the loss spoiled a terrific effort from goaltender Steve Valiquette, an emergency sub for Henrik Lundqvist (stomach ailment), who made 33 saves.
"He played very well. I have no problem with his part," Tortorella said. "You get no run support, he gets the loss, but he certainly gave us a chance . . . I don't think we were aggressive enough in all facets of our game. We were a step behind, they were quicker. We didn't create enough offense, we didn't create enough forechecking, we didn't have the puck enough, and that's been one of our strengths."
In the first of a three-game road trip, the Rangers managed 28 shots, created little action in front of Ward and were 0-for 4 on the power play after going 5-for-20 in the previous five games. "We didn't have enough traffic, and even when we were getting pucks to the point, it seemed like they were blocking shots. The forwards were right on top of the D," captain Chris Drury said.
As a result, the game-deciding goal came during a four-on-four in the second period. Matt Cullen and Ray Whitney broke out in a two-on-one from the Carolina zone after Cullen blocked Michal Rozsival's keep-in attempt at the right point. Cullen's shot was stopped by the stick of a sprawling Valiquette, but as the goaltender curled on his side, the puck sat in the crease and was poked in by trailing defenseman Joe Corvo at 9:01.
With Nik Antropov off for hooking at 2:23 of the third, the Rangers' seventh penalty, Rod Brind'Amour's one-timer from the left circle on Whitney's pass zipped past Valiquette's glove to extend the lead to 2-0 at 3:41.
Midway through the third, Tortorella -- much like his predecessor -- opted to shuffle lines to generate some offense. "I throw it against the wall and hope something sticks," Tortorella said. "I thought when I put Callahan, Drury and Avery together, they created some chances."
Tortorella also pulled Valiquette with 2:33 to play, but to no avail. Tuomo Ruutu scored into an empty net at 19:35.
Asked if he thought he played well enough to give his team a chance to win, Valiquette said, "Yeah, more or less."
At 12:37 of the second, Cullen was called for holding. But just 15 seconds into the power play, Sean Avery was called for another questionable interference penalty (it also happened to him late in Sunday's game against the Bruins). Avery skated from the corner, spun and fell, knocking Corvo off balance in front of the crease.
"I thought Sean did a lot of good things, but I don't think he was targeted [by the referees]," Tortorella said.On one knee, Avery shook his head, and from the bench, Tortorella did the same.
It was that kind of night.