NEW YORK (AP) The New York Rangers’ first game after they secured a playoff berth went a lot smoother than the two before they got in.
Brad Richards scored twice on New York’s previously anemic power play, Martin St. Louis had three assists in his best game since joining the Rangers last month, and Henrik Lundqvist kept the Carolina Hurricanes at bay in a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night.
The Rangers qualified for the playoffs on Monday when New Jersey lost. New York was 0-1-1 in its previous two games after a 7-1 spurt vaulted them to second place in the Metropolitan Division.
If the Rangers, who have two games left, hold off Philadelphia and Columbus they will have home-ice advantage against one of those teams in the first round.
”You want to get good habits, and you want to play the game you want to play next week,” said Lundqvist, who made 27 saves. ”You can’t take any shortcuts. You need to focus the same way and take each game as an important game.
”Who knows? It can play a huge part in the end.”
Philadelphia and Columbus, third and fourth respectively in the Metropolitan, also won Tuesday. Philadelphia trails New York by two points, and Columbus is four points behind. Those clubs both have three games remaining.
”We talked before the game that we have been playing good hockey for a long time, and we want to go into the playoffs feeling good about our game,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. ”For the most part, that’s what we did.”
Richards scored in the first period to tie it and then stretched New York’s lead to two goals in the second with his 20th of the season – the 10th time he has reached the mark in the NHL. Benoit Pouliot and Derek Stepan also scored as the Rangers beat the Hurricanes for the 11th time in 12 games.
Patrick Dwyer scored for Carolina, and Cam Ward made 32 saves in just his second start in seven games. The Hurricanes are out of the playoff picture.
”I thought three of the four goals that they scored were too easy,” Ward said. ”It was almost like we gave them to them.”
Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game during the first when each team had 10 shots and numerous scoring chances.
Carolina connected 3:22 in, after Ward made a big save. The Hurricanes dug the puck out of the corner to Lundqvist’s left, and Brett Bellemore brought it behind the Rangers’ net. He spotted Dwyer in front and fed a quick pass to him for his eighth goal.
Lundqvist was sharp the rest of the way, turning aside Alexander Semin’s slow breakaway with 8 minutes left, catching Jeff Skinner’s hard shot from the right circle after he knocked the puck up in the air with his glove with 6:33 remaining, and a shot and rebound in tight by defenseman Jay Harrison.
That allowed the Rangers to get even on Richards’ first. Just 9 seconds after Semin went off for hooking, Richards took a pass in the left circle from St. Louis, paused for a moment, and then slapped a shot past Ward with 4:16 to go in the first.
New York had scored just four goals on its previous 47 power plays over 15 games.
The Rangers nearly went in front with 1:39 left in the period, but Mats Zuccarello banged the puck off the right post at the goal line, and then had the carom stopped by Harrison at the left post.
However, they wasted little time in grabbing the lead just 50 seconds into the middle period, making it 2-1 on Pouliot’s 14th goal.
”We just weren’t ready to go in the second period,” Ward said. ”The puck dropped and they immediately attacked us.”
Zuccarello wound up for a big drive in the high slot, but instead of shooting the puck he slapped a pass to Pouliot, who cut in on left wing and scored.
The Rangers pushed the lead to 3-1 and made it 2 for 2 on the power play when Richards – in the middle of a triangle passing play with St. Louis and Dan Girardi – took a feed from Girardi and slapped another drive that eluded Ward with 6:24 left in the second.
”The turning point was getting scored on the first shift of the second period,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. ”We just had a tough time getting things going after that.”
Stepan finished the scoring 4:38 into the third when he steered a pass from St. Louis in at the left post for his 17th goal. St. Louis had just one goal and three assists before Tuesday in 17 games since joining the Rangers.
”I definitely have felt a lot better the past six or seven games,” St. Louis said. ”It’s nice to get rewarded on so many plays. Just keep looking to build it up and keep getting better.”
NOTES: Injured Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (shoulder) and forward Chris Kreider (hand) both participated in the morning skate, but sat out the game. It isn’t known if either will play in New York’s final two regular-season games. … It was Dwyer’s first goal in 10 games.