2009-01-30 / Sports

Rangers Start Second Half OnWinning Note

By Nathaniel E. Baker

Stephen Valiquette Stephen Valiquette The New York Rangers returned from the week-long break with their lone All-Star Game representative, starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist, relegated to bench duty.

It was a routine move for a team playing two games in as many days and not a statement on Lundqvist's play. But the way replacement goaltender Stephen Valiquette performed, the Swedish netminder was not missed.

Valiquette made 33 saves for his sixth 30-plus save performance in nine starts this season. Scott Gomez had a goal and an assist and the Rangers beat the visiting Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 to start off the second half of the season the same way they ended the first, with a low-scoring victory on home ice.

"I think we should be pretty happy with it," Valiquette said of the victory. "Coming out of the break you just want to win. It doesn't have to be a perfect hockey game ... we're happy with the result and that's what matters most tonight."

Brandon Dubinsky scored the eventual game-winning goal midway through the third period to hand the Rangers their fifth victory in the past six matches. Markus Naslund had a pair of assists for the Blueshirts. Dubinsky, Naslund and Gomez were the three stars of the game, but Naslund's contributions are perhaps the ones the Rangers are most happy about.

"I think his last couple of weeks he's starting to get the feel for New York," Gomez said of his linemate. "You can tell he's trying to get more creative. "It's the Markus Naslund we're used to and who we knew we were getting. He's been the fixture of the line."

In his last two games, Naslund has four points and one goal.

"Certainly, those two make it work offensively," head coach Tom Renney said of the Naslund-Gomez combination. "We really need that from our forwards and certainly from guys like that who are going to make things happen with the puck."

But after Gomez put the Blueshirts up 2-0 at 10:03 of the first period, "we seemed to take a step back from what we have been doing," the coach said. Ryan Bayda scored for the Hurricanes 13:04 into the period and Carolina was back in the game.

The score did not change until 12:10 of the third period when Dubinsky scored what turned out to be the game winner. Carolina answered Dubinsky's goal almost immediately—Tuomo Ruutu put one past Valiquette 25 seconds afterwards—and the Rangers had to hold on for the victory, thanks to a key save by Valiquette and some effective forechecking.

With the two points from the victory, the Rangers leapfrog the Montreal Canadiens and establish a three point cushion over the Philadelphia Flyers, both of whom lost their games Tuesday night. This puts New York in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, good enough to host a first round playoff game but short of the team's goal of winning the division.

"We looked at the schedule and we figured if we should get to 104 or 105 [points] we should be able to take our division at least and put ourselves in a place where we have home ice advantage," said Valiquette. "We really want to be in that position this year and give ourselves a chance to go deep in the playoffs. With home ice, that's going to be a big difference for us."

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