Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) hauls in the shot of New York Rangers\' Brandon Dubinsky (17) with Hurricanes\' Tim Gleason (6) nearby during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Dec. 21, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Karl B DeBlaker)
RALEIGH, N.C. - A pair of benched veterans returned for the New York Rangers. So did the team's confidence.
The Rangers won their third straight game by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Monday night behind Marian Gaborik's NHL-leading 25th goal.
Gaborik added an assist to increase his point total to 47, Brandon Dubinsky scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, Henrik Lundqvist stopped 32 shots and Marc Staal scored into an empty net for the Rangers.
They're on their longest winning streak since they reeled off seven in a row in October, and have come a long way since the 1-6-2 stretch led coach John Tortorella to shake things up by benching defenceman Wade Redden and right-winger Ales Kotalik. Both were back on the ice against Carolina.
"We're just trying to gain some confidence, and (be) as consistent as you can be, and you find a way to win some hockey games, you start feeling better about yourself," Tortorella said. "We just need to stay within ourselves and try to play a simple game. When we're on the road, we think that ... It's just a matter of simplifying everything and just competing on pucks."
Sergei Samsonov gave Carolina a short-lived 1-0 lead and Cam Ward made 28 saves. But the NHL's worst team was denied its fourth two-game winning streak of a difficult season. The Hurricanes - who haven't won three in a row all season - have been significantly more competitive recently, but their 24 points is eight fewer than the league's second-worst team.
"It's a painful game, and we're not in position to wash those away," coach Paul Maurice said. "It was a hard-fought game that turned on a goal. ... We had our chances, there's no question about that, (but) just had a hard time getting a handle on it. But the effort was there."
Dubinsky, who also assisted on Gaborik's goal, put the Rangers ahead to stay with 18:39 left when he broke for the net, took a pretty feed from Gaborik and beat Ward high with a backhander for his first goal since Oct. 17.
"I had an opportunity to shoot it, and I took it to the backhand - I don't know what I was thinking - but luckily for me, it went in," Dubinsky said.
Lundqvist took care of the rest, stopping Carolina with an assortment of acrobatic saves down the stretch to help the Rangers polish off a sweep of a three-game road trip that also included victories at the New York Islanders and Philadelphia. They followed that by winning in Raleigh for just the third time in 11 visits.
"We went through such a tough stretch there - it takes a little while to dig out of a hole," Dubinsky said. "Three wins in a row, and we're starting to turn things around and pick up our game. (Lundqvist) is playing awesome, and we're playing pretty good team D. If we can find a way to bury a few more chances, you know, we can take some pressure off ourselves in the third periods."
Neither team could get anything going offensively early - the Rangers didn't even put the puck on net until about 7½ minutes in - before Samsonov put Carolina up 1-0 with a wrap-around goal into an open net 46 seconds into the second.
The Rangers tied it 28 seconds later when Gaborik beat Ward with a wrist shot from the slot. He has four goals in six games, trails only San Jose's Joe Thornton in the league's scoring race and gave New York
"We knew we were playing a pretty good game (entering the third), and the next goal wins, pretty much," Staal said. "We were confident, calm, going into the third. It's nice to have that feeling going into the third. We haven't really had that in a while."
NOTES: This was the first of three meetings between the teams in a 13-day span. ... New York scratched C Brian Boyle (back). ... D Tim Gleason returned for Carolina after missing three games with an upper-body injury. ... The Hurricanes pulled out a few stops for this one, inviting wrestler Ric Flair to sound the siren that precedes the team's entrance to the ice. Flair is considered a folk hero for Carolina, which after every goal plays a video of him exclaiming "Woo!"