NEW YORK – The New York Rangers didn't find the offense they've been lacking for the past week, but on Monday night, one goal was good enough for a much-needed two points.
Rick Nash and J.T. Miller scored in the shootout and Henrik Lundqvist made 29 saves through 65 minutes and two more in the tiebreaker to give the Rangers a 2-1 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. The win snapped a three-game losing streak that dropped the Rangers out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
Derek Stepan's eighth goal of the season was all the Rangers could muster before the shootout. It was the fourth straight game in which the Rangers failed to score more than one goal, but all that mattered to the players afterward was finding a way to get a win.
"I think just getting two points and winning gives us the confidence we need right now to move us forward and allow us to get the confidence to maybe put up three or four goals," said Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who led the team with five shots on goal in one of his best games of the season. "Just getting the win is what we want and what we needed."
The win moved the Rangers into ninth place in the Eastern Conference and within two points of the eighth-place New Jersey Devils. The teams will meet in Newark, N.J., on Tuesday night.
If the Rangers want to match the result they earned Monday night, they know they need to play like they did over the final two periods when the outshot the Hurricanes 25-13 and avoid their lackluster play in the first 20 minutes when they left the ice down 1-0 and trailing the Hurricanes 14-6 in shots.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan knows the good feelings from this win will disappear quickly if they don't get another win Tuesday.
"It means nothing if we don't go into Jersey and play the same way, or go into Jersey and get a win," Callahan said. "You're only as good as your last game, so we have to go to Jersey and show that kind of effort we did in the second and third period and pucks will start going in for us too."
The Hurricanes capped a dominant first period when captain Eric Staal scored with 51 seconds remaining to break a scoreless tie. The Rangers' top line – Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash – was on the ice for an extended shift and had a hard time defending in their own end. Nash nearly tipped the pass of Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen, but it made it across the ice for Staal's one-timer goal.
From that point on, the Rangers began forechecking with more urgency and it paid off with Stepan's goal at 11:06 of the second period. Callahan had his initial shot stopped by goaltender Dan Ellis, who was terrific while making 35 saves – five in overtime – to help the Hurricanes squeeze out a point on the road to move back into first place in the Southeast Division. But Stepan fired home the rebound.
Ellis had no chance at the second shot, as he was knocked down by Callahan cutting through his crease. There was no penalty, however, as Callahan was steered into Ellis by Pitkanen.
The effort and outcome satisfied Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller.
"I thought our game was good tonight," Muller said. "We knew coming in to play New York that it was going to be two teams battling for big points. We came out really strong in the first, got away from our game in the second, but got into it with a nice tight third period. When you walk in here and get a point in New York, it was a good effort here tonight."
Ellis made a huge save in the final 11 seconds of regulation, getting a pad on a tough shot by Gaborik to make sure the Hurricanes earned at least a point.
The Rangers came out firing on the first shift of overtime, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh nearly won it 27 seconds into the extra session. The Hurricanes became preoccupied with the stickhandling of Nash, who fed a streaking McDonagh for a 1-on-1 chance with Ellis. Despite faking the goaltender to the ice, McDonagh shot the puck over the net from just above the goal line.
"We said it right before overtime – one of us is going to get it," said Del Zotto, who was denied by Ellis just 34 seconds after McDonagh's chance. "He had that one, next shift, I had a great chance in the slot. It's good knowing we had the chances, but hopefully we get one to fall in for us here."
In the shootout, Nash beat Ellis by forcing the goaltender to his right, then one-handing the puck into an open net on his backhand. Lundqvist stopped Jiri Tlusty, then Callahan missed the net attempting his patented wrist shot high to the blocker side, and Alexander Semin hit the post on the backhand with Lundqvist out of position.
That's when it came down to Miller, who turned a near gaffe into a goal that put the game away. The 20-year-old went to the net slowly and attempted to deke to his backhand. Instead, he lost control, but was able to corral the bouncing puck and beat Ellis from a sharp angle.
"I tried to wait him out," Miller said. "That's all I really had to do. He went down so far out and that's the reason it worked."
Asked if he had been working on that move, Miller said, "I try that one a lot. It doesn't go in on [Lundqvist in practice] very often."
Reuniting Gaborik, Richards and Nash didn't lead to the offensive spark coach John Tortorella wanted Monday, but the trio had 10 shots and hope some of those start to find the back of the net against the Devils on Tuesday.
"We have been struggling to score goals," Gaborik said. "We created some chances. We have to keep it simple and play with some confidence, but this is an important win for us to snap the losing streak and to move forward to tomorrow night's game with some confidence. It was a way better effort and overall game, that's for sure."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo