Lundqvist leads Rangers past Hurricanes, 4-1
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — After stopping 74 shots in a little over 24 hours, Henrik Lundqvist was nearly too exhausted to talk.
His play on the ice said plenty.
Lundqvist made a season-high 48 saves, and the New York Rangers gave the Carolina Hurricanes their club-record-tying seventh straight home loss, 4-1 on Saturday night.
“I’m just so tired, I don’t know what to say right now,” Lundqvist said with a smile. “I don’t know what I’m saying. Short answers today.”
Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan scored 31 seconds apart, and Rick Nash added a goal and an assist during the Rangers’ three-goal second period. Brian Boyle added an empty-netter just before the buzzer.
New York has earned seven points during a 3-0-1 run to move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are tied in points with the eighth-place New York Islanders, but own the tiebreakers. More importantly, the Rangers lead ninth-place Winnipeg by two points.
Division and area rival New Jersey is three points back in 10th place.
“Everything’s important. The belief in here has held strong, we’ve held together and we’ve seen some things that we’re improving along the way,” Rangers center Brad Richards said. “Now we’re getting some points. No matter how you get them, we need them desperately.”
Zac Dalpe, called up from Charlotte of the AHL earlier Saturday, scored with 10:33 left for Carolina, which had a season-high 49 shots but couldn’t convert on two late power plays.
“That’s a lot of rubber at the net for a team, and (Lundqvist) came up with some big saves,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “I don’t know what more our guys can do. There were great scoring chances. We asked them to go to the net, get second and third rebounds. We did everything you’re supposed to do, and were only able to beat him once.”
Dan Ellis stopped 27 shots in two periods for the Hurricanes and was replaced by Justin Peters, who made eight saves.
The Hurricanes lost their fourth straight and for the 11th time in 12 games while matching the mark for consecutive home losses set in the 2002-03 season — a record that could fall Tuesday night when the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins visit.
“Losing’s not fun. It’s not fun for anybody to watch. It’s not fun for anybody to play,” captain Eric Staal said. “But I think you start pointing fingers, start blaming certain things, it’s not going to make you a better person or better player. We’re after something bigger here, and the type of attitude and work ethic we had tonight, we can live with. Not that we’re going to accept losing, but the effort was there.”
Since taking a 2-0 lead against Washington on March 14 — a game the Hurricanes lost 3-2 to start their slide — Carolina has been outscored 45-16 while tumbling from the Southeast Division lead.
Lundqvist finished with a career high for saves in regulation, surpassed only by his 50-save performance in an overtime loss to Pittsburgh in 2010.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
Lundqvist took a shutout bid into the third period one night after he made 26 saves in a shootout loss to the Penguins that had all the intensity of a playoff game.
“The key for me today was, I was patient,” Lundqvist said. “I was waiting for the shots, and obviously as the game moved on, I gained some confidence, knowing I could stay deep and play my game and wait for the puck.”
Muller has repeatedly lamented the fragility of his team’s mental state during its skid, and it reappeared during the first few minutes of the second period.
New York’s first goal came on a power play after three Hurricanes followed Richards to the goal line. The Rangers center backhanded a pass to a wide-open Stepan between the circles, and he beat Ellis at 2:00.
On New York’s next shift, Ellis had his pocket picked while playing the puck behind the net. Nash slipped it to Callahan, who buried a shot into an open net to make it 2-0 at 2:31.
Nash then added a spin-and-shoot goal from between the circles on the power play with 8:41 left — the Rangers’ fifth goal in three games with the man advantage.
“They get that puck in the slot,” Carolina left wing Jeff Skinner said, “and there’s not much you can do.”
That was more than enough offense to take care of a Hurricanes team playing for the first time without Alexander Semin, a key component of a top line that has been the lone bright spot of an otherwise rough month. He was scratched due to an undisclosed upper body injury.
“He’s been pushing it for a bit and just couldn’t do it,” Muller said.
NOTES: Skinner had his first assist since March 9 when he helped on Dalpe’s goal. ... The Rangers have won eight of nine in the series. ... New York improved to 11-0 when leading after two periods.
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at (at)JoedyAP.