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The New York Rangers probably wanted to believe in the old adage that defense wins championships early this season. They may not be feeling the same now.
The struggling Rangers hope to avoid matching a season-high four-game losing streak Wednesday night when they face the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden.
During an early-season offensive slump that saw them score two goals or fewer in 11 of their first 15 games, the Rangers (17-15-4) still managed a 7-7-1 record thanks to strong defensive play and Henrik Lundqvist's goaltending.
New York's offense improved enough for it to put together an 8-2-1 run over the next three weeks that moved it near the top of the Atlantic Division.
During the last 10 games, however, the Rangers are 2-6-2 and have been outscored 37-21. Even Lundqvist hasn't been immune to the slump, going 2-4-2 with two shutouts and a 3.42 goals-against average in his last eight starts.
"You've got to bring an 'A' game every night, and you've got to battle through things that may not bounce your way. You've got to persevere, Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "And until we are ready to embrace that opportunity, these nights are going to happen more than we want them to."
Despite the return of abrasive forward Sean Avery, New York's slump continued Sunday with a 3-1 home loss to Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa.
Scott Gomez scored for the Rangers, who dropped to 3-6-0 in their last nine at MSG.
"We get the lead and we're just in a bad stretch right now. We're in a rut," Gomez said. "Maybe we've got to get a two-goal lead and go from there. We're not going to change anything, get the lead and keep going."
Avery returned after missing 11 games following wrist surgery. The Rangers fell to 9-5-1 in games he's played this season. New York was 8-10-3 during his two injury stints.
"I'm not going to be effective unless I get into the game. I just tried to do that," Avery said. "I've got to stay in the lineup and stay healthy."
While Gomez has four goals and eight assists during a nine-game point streak, captain Jaromir Jagr has gone 10 games without a goal. Jagr has seven goals in 36 games this season after he had 16 at this point in 2006-07.
The Rangers' 2-6-2 skid started Dec. 3 with a 4-0 home loss to Southeast Division-leading Carolina (19-15-3).
The Hurricanes lost four of their next five games before rebounding to win three of four, including a 4-1 victory Saturday at Tampa Bay.
"This team has been a problem for us," Whitney said. "I think patience was what won it for us. We didn't force too many things."
Whitney, who has four goals and two assists in his last three games, is one of six Hurricanes with at least 30 points. No other has more than four with that many.
The Rangers had won three straight against the Hurricanes before Ward shut them out in the most recent meeting.