A lot of New York Rangers fans were in PNC Arena on Saturday, putting a lot of blue in the red seats.
The Rangers didn’t disappoint on the ice, but it took 65 minutes of hockey and then a shootout to edge the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2.
Rangers goalie Cam Talbot again was the winner, denying Elias Lindholm, Riley Nash and Jeff Skinner. Mats Zuccarello, shooting second for the Rangers, had the only shootout goal, outwaiting Canes goalie Anton Khudobin and then scoring.
But had Khudobin not been effective much of the game, battling in net, the Hurricanes would not have gotten a point. Making his fourth straight start, Khudobin was able to match Talbot, who has been on a sizzling run for the Rangers since Henrik Lundqvist went out with a vascular injury in his neck that was suffered Jan. 31 against Carolina.
Lindholm scored an early goal for the Canes, and J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast pushed New York (45-18-7) ahead with goals in the second. But the Canes made a big push in the third, tying the score on Ryan Murphy’s power-play goal with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in regulation and putting 17 shots on goal.
“We play the game with an in-your-face, high-tempo type game and I think they play a very similar game,” Murphy said. “We took them the full distance tonight. They’re a great team and they’re going to be a playoff contender for sure this year. It’s a big confidence boost for this group.”
Talbot, 14-3-3 since Lundqvist was sidelined, had to be at his best in the third. The Canes’ Victor Rask, Eric Staal and Jordan Staal all had good scoring chances.
A tripping penalty against the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin then led to the Canes’ tying goal. Murphy got off a shot from the point off a pass from John-Michael Liles for his second goal of the season.
“I thought we were better early, then they took over the second half of the first period and then they controlled the majority of the second period,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “We had a real good answer in the third.
“(Khudobin) played well and gave us a chance. We had some good looks in the third and OT but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The Canes were beaten 4-0 on Thursday in a road loss to the Montreal Canadiens and Peters was not happy with his team’s effort or execution. But no complaints Saturday as the Canes battled the Metropolitan Division leaders on even terms much of the night.
“It was a fun game to play,” Canes forward Nathan Gerbe said. “You get up for these games and use it as a measuring stick. It was a big game for us and we were up for it.”
The Rangers finished off a season sweep of the Canes, winning all five games. New York now has won 16 of the past 17 games against Carolina.
Lindholm gave the Canes (26-35-10) a 1-0 lead barely two minutes into the game with a shot from the right wing off a setup pass from Rask. Rookie defenseman Danny Biega also earned an assist for his first NHL point.
The Rangers tied the score 1-1 early in the second. New York lost 14 of 22 faceoffs in the first, but the Rangers’ Derick Brassard won a draw in the Carolina zone and Miller scored.
The Rangers then took the lead on a quick-hitting rush into the Carolina zone. Hagelin made a sharp pass to Kevin Hayes along the left boards and Hayes quickly moved it to Fast in the right circle for the shot.
The Canes have been stymied by hot goaltenders of late – Ottawa’s Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond and then the Canadiens’ Carey Price.
Talbot, 27, has done for New York what Hammond has done in Ottawa, minus the fancy nickname. The Rangers have one of the league’s best defensive corps, but Talbot has gotten the job done as New York continues to push Montreal for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Talbot was undrafted by NHL teams and played college hockey at Alabama-Huntsville. He spent three years in the minors before getting his first games last season with the Rangers.