RALEIGH — Its hard, nigh impossible, to try and chase down a team when you keep losing to them.
The Carolina Hurricanes had lost 10 straight times to the New York Rangers before the puck dropped Tuesday at PNC Arena. The Canes also had lost six in a row on home ice to the Rangers, which was galling.
But both streaks ended as the Canes won 3-1, getting some sound play in net from Cam Ward and goals from Jiri Tlusty, Jordan Staal and rookie Elias Lindholm.
We played a really strong 60 minutes, Canes coach Kirk Muller said. Theres still a lot of fight in these guys. We had a lot of guys who showed theyre not going to quit.
The Hurricanes (28-28-9) had dropped seven of their past eight games, including a 4-2 loss Friday to the Rangers when New York surged in the third period to score four goals. They had fallen down the Metropolitan Division standings and were 11 points behind the second-place Rangers (35-27-4) in the Metro.
Anton Khudobin was in net Friday against New York, making 40 saves but taking the loss. Ward then relieved a struggling Khudobin on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils as the Canes rallied from a 4-1 deficit before losing 5-4.
Muller had a decision to make: Khudobin or Ward on Tuesday. Ward got the call, making his first appearance at PNC Arena since the New Years Eve game against Montreal.
The reason I started him is because the big word in team sports is chemistry, Muller said. For us to move forward here, your best players have to come up big and hes one of the leaders of this team.
It was a team were trying to catch and we said, Youve got the ball. I think he wanted it.
It has been a challenging, frustrating season for Ward. A groin injury in October was a setback. He returned, only to be injured again.
While Ward was out, Khudobin played well enough to be named the NHLs first star for January. Khudobin had become the Canes No. 1 goalie and general manager Jim Rutherford talked recently of Wards struggles being more mental than physical.
But Ward made the big stops Tuesday in earning his first victory since beating the Canadiens on Dec. 31. The Rangers goal came on defenseman Kevin Kleins blast from the high slot early in the second period.
The Rangers, while outshot 35-25, had pucks crazily bouncing around Ward at times. It wasnt always smooth. But Ward was effective.
Its been a long time coming, Ward said, smiling. I was slightly overdue to get a win and have some positives happen. As a goaltender in my position, I need to come up with the save when it matters and fortunately tonight things went better for me.
Jordan Staals line, with Tlusty and Alexander Semin on the wings, also came up big. Staal set up Tlusty for a shot that beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist 33 seconds into the second period for a 1-0 lead. Klein tied it, but Staal then outraced Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman to the puck along the boards in the Rangers zone, passed across ice to Tlusty, then broke in to take a Tlusty pass and score his 13th of the season.
Lindholms goal came with 5:29 left in regulation after Jeff Skinner stickhandled the puck through traffic to get off a shot. Lindholm knocked the loose puck last Lundqvist.
We did a lot of good things on both sides of the puck, Jordan Staal said. Weve been working hard these last few games but tonight we were working smarter.
Against the Rangers on Friday, the winning goal came on a 5-on-3 New York power play after the Canes twice flipped pucks over the glass for penalties. But the Canes avoided those mistakes, killed off three Rangers power plays -- one after a late tripping call against Eric Staal -- and outworked the Rangers.
We won a lot of the races, a lot of the battles, Muller said.
The Canes, with 65 points, are eight points behind third-place Columbus in the Metro and eight points behind Philadelphia for the last wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Its still a steep climb.
Its never over until the end, Tlusty said.