RALEIGH — The New York Rangers' goaltender was a little better than the Carolina Hurricanes' goaltender.
The Rangers' best player was a little better than the Hurricanes' best player.
Finally, the Rangers were a little better on their scoring chances and a little grittier defensively than the Hurricanes.
In a game Monday night that had a playoff feel to it, that was the difference. The Rangers won 3-1 as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist turned back nearly everything the Canes threw at him, and Marian Gaborik had a goal and assist and was an offensive force.
Gaborik did not have the winning goal, but his assist set up the winner. Brandon Dubinsky beat Canes goaltender Cam Ward at 1:21 of the third for a 2-1 lead, defenseman Marc Staal added an empty-netter in the final seconds and the Rangers won their third straight on the road.
Sergei Samsonov had the Canes' only goal, early in the second, but Eric Staal had any number of chances to score. In the final minutes of the third, he was denied a couple of times by Lundqvist, leaving the Canes' star center frustrated.
Seeing his younger brother wing a long bounding shot out of the Rangers' zone and into the empty net didn't help Eric Staal's frame of mind, either.
For the Hurricanes, who had won three straight at home, suffice it to say it was a tough loss.
"There were good chances at both ends, and both teams needed tennis rackets around the net," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "But there was a lot of bodies and stick-swinging, and it was a pretty physical game. A very fast game.
"It was a hard-fought, well-played game. There was a good crowd in the building and some good hits."
Lundqvist, who covers so much room in net, had 32 saves and was forced to make 15 stops in the third. In the final four minutes, Samsonov had a good chance off the rebound of a Tim Gleason shot from the point, and Staal soon was whacking at the puck to Lundqvist's right.
"Lundqvist is a good goaltender, and we knew coming into the game it would be tough to score goals," said Ward, who had 28 saves. "They play well defensively, and I thought our guys did a good job at putting the puck at the net and forcing some rebounds out of him, but it was awfully difficult for us to get on those second opportunities."
Other than Samsonov, who scored on a wraparound 46 seconds into the second, no one got the puck past Lundqvist. And Gaborik, who leads the NHL in goals, answered Samsonov's goal with one of his own 28 seconds later after a wicked bounce off the end boards that surprised Ward.
"I was being a little too aggressive," Ward said. "Next thing you know, I'm out of the net and it's a tap-in."
Dubinsky got a piece of the puck, and Gaborik finished it off for his 25th goal.
"He's such a talented player," Ward said of Gaborik, who has 35 goals in his past 44 games. "You've got to treat him like the Sidney Crosby, like the [Alex] Ovechkin.
"You've got to play him tough, and I thought we did a good job, but he's hard to contain. He got his opportunities, but we also got our opportunities."
Staal led a rush into the Rangers' zone in the first and had defenseman Jay Harrison open backdoor, but Harrison couldn't get his stick on the puck. Midway the second, the Canes' Rod Brind'Amour forced a turnover and had a two-on-one with Scott Walker, but Brind'Amour - without a goal the last 30 games - fanned on the shot.
"We had a few chances to bury it, and we didn't," center Brandon Sutter said. "But it's hard to sit here and be negative about it. I think we played a pretty good game."
The Canes had just one penalty - a goaltender-interference call against Staal in the third. Ward played well. The Canes had 33 shots.
After missing three games with concussion-type symptoms, Gleason was back in the lineup, and he ditched his helmet shield after the first period. The defenseman was on the ice for all three Rangers goals and couldn't quite corral the puck in front of the crease when Gaborik scored.
"Both teams tried to play smart and not take stupid penalties and competed real hard," Maurice said. "There was a lot of intensity in that game."
And the Rangers were just a little better this night.
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