Win gives Rangers needed boost in standings
These points were all about the standings and had nothing to do with style.
Locked in separate playoff races, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild staged a fight of attrition that lacked grace, but provided a big payoff for whichever team would survive.
That club was the Rangers, who pulled out a 2-1 win Tuesday night and moved into a sixth-place tie in the Eastern Conference.
"I know it wasn't the most exciting game for the fans, but that's how you've got to play against a team like that," said Rangers agitator Sean Avery, who had an assist and a fight. "They play a system that's frustrating, but we just played through it."
Nikolai Zherdev had a goal and an assist, and Scott Gomez also scored for the Rangers (39-27-8), who bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Ottawa on Sunday and won for the eighth time in 11 games.
Zherdev gave New York its seventh straight 1-0 lead when he beat the first-period clock and then helped set up Gomez's second-period tiebreaking tally. New York is in a flat-footed tie with Pittsburgh, five points ahead of ninth-place Florida, with eight games remaining.
Henrik Lundqvist rebounded from Sunday's loss with a relatively easy effort against the defensive-minded Wild. New York outshot short-handed Minnesota 30-19.
"I thought we battled through the whole game," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "It looked good that they had a lot of shots compared to us, but a lot of them were not dangerous. Overall, everyone played good. (Niklas) Backstrom played good, our defensemen played really well, but we lack the scoring. You can see it."
Marian Gaborik, who scored five goals against Lundqvist and the Rangers in the teams' last meeting on Dec. 20, 2007, lifted the Wild into a 1-1 tie. It was Gaborik's first goal since returning Sunday from a 38-game absence following hip surgery.
"I feel pretty good for the second game. Hopefully I can get much better," Gaborik said.
The Wild, below the playoff cutoff line in the West, lost ground in the opener of a four-game road trip - falling for the third time in five games. They will need Gaborik's offense to help offset the loss of captain and leading scorer Mikko Koivu, who will be out at least a week due to a knee injury sustained Sunday.
Minnesota has scored the second-fewest goals in the West (184).
"Everyone has to step up their game and pull as a team," Gaborik said. "We need to challenge each other and just go out there and give everything. Responsibility and pressure come with it. That's the way it goes."
Gomez made it 2-1 when he took a pass in the slot from Avery and one-timed in his 16th goal at 2:24 of the second, 53 seconds after Gaborik tied it with his fourth of the season in eight games.
The Wild had nearly as many fights in the first period as shots. Minnesota, held to three shots, got into a pair of scraps just over 2 minutes apart late in the frame.
Avery got tangled with Cal Clutterbuck in front of the Wild net and dropped the gloves with his Minnesota counterpart. Both players removed their helmets, with Avery dramatically spinning his onto the ice, before they engaged in punches.
It was Avery's first fight since rejoining the Rangers earlier this month.
Rangers enforcer Colton Orr took on 37-year-old forward Owen Nolan soon after, following a big collision in open ice. Nolan seemed reluctant at first to take on the heavyweight, and Orr was given an extra penalty for roughing. Minnesota's power play was wiped out 22 seconds later when Antti Miettinen went off for interference.
That set up 4-on-4 play, leading to Zherdev's goal that was a product of patience.
Zherdev's shot was stopped by Backstrom, but Zherdev gained the rebound near the left post. Backstrom was down on his right side as Zherdev waited with the puck on his stick. As Backstrom waved his gloved hand in the air, trying to provide a miniature golf-like impediment, Zherdev calmly waited for an opening and found a small one under the goalie's arm with 4.4 seconds left in the first.
"You lose your patience against a Minnesota team, and the way they play, and you allow them to transition, that's when they get you," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We played a little bit of their game. We know they have injuries and they tried to grind one out.
"They played well, but we didn't blow ourselves up in trying to do too much in that neutral zone."
Nolan, in his 17th NHL season, wore the captain's 'C' in Koivu's absence. LW Peter Olvecky took Koivu's place in the lineup and earned an assist. ... Rangers D Mike Sauer made his NHL debut, filling in for D Michal Rozsival, who is expected to miss seven to 10 days due to an injured left leg.