NEW YORK - Just as the Carolina Hurricanes are finding their way for the first time in a most difficult season, the New York Rangers are trying to figure out again where their fickle offence has gone.
Patrick Dwyer and Eric Staal scored before four minutes elapsed, and the cellar-dwelling Hurricanes sent the Rangers to their fourth straight loss, 5-1 on Wednesday night.
Carolina also topped Boston 5-1 at home Sunday.
"We played two teams that are kind of struggling," Staal said. "It was key for us to get on them early. Those two quick goals kind of took the life out of the building and their team."
Dwyer and Staal beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist with consecutive shots 25 seconds apart to give the Hurricanes their third win in four games. Cam Ward, playing in his 20th straight game, made 37 saves for Carolina (17-28-7), which has an Eastern Conference-low 41 points.
The Hurricanes have been at the bottom of the NHL standings for much of the season after reaching the conference finals last spring.
"This just goes to show the character that we have. It has not been an easy season," Ward said. "We're one of the last-place teams in the league, but guys continue to come to the rink and are willing to work hard to try to better ourselves."
Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers in the second period, but Sergei Samsonov answered 41 seconds later for Carolina. Samsonov's second of the game and 10th this season made it 4-1 at 7:51 of the third. Staal turned it into a full rout when he scored again during a 5-on-3 power play with 5:18 remaining.
New York, which has four consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season, began the night tied in points for eighth in the East but only three points ahead of 13th-place Tampa Bay. The Rangers are on a 3-6-2 skid.
Now they are heading west for a three-game trip. Coach John Tortorella said his biggest concern is keeping the team from fracturing during adversity. The Rangers have been outscored 17-3 during the skid.
"Just mental state, staying together. That's what we have to do," Tortorella said. "No one is going to feel sorry for you. The best thing for us is to get out of town."
They had opportunities to rally, but went 0-for-4 on the power play. New York held a 38-24 shots advantage.
The Hurricanes took the lead after controlling play in the Rangers' zone. Defenceman Aaron Ward slid a pass to Joni Pitkanen, whose drive from the left point was deflected by Dwyer between his legs. Dwyer's goal at 3:11, on Carolina's third shot, was his fourth tally this season and fifth in 41 NHL games.
Carolina doubled the lead at 3:36 with its next shot. Staal, on a tear since taking over as captain from Rod Brind'Amour, took a pass from Ray Whitney off the left-wing boards, skated around defenceman Dan Girardi, and beat Lundqvist between the pads from a tough angle.
Staal has seven goals in four games with the 'C' on his sweater. He also has points in six consecutive contests, posting seven goals and three assists.
"Right now, pucks are going in," Staal said. "I don't think I've changed my game too much. It's just coincidence that first night wearing (the C) I got a hat trick and kind of heated up."
The Rangers showed life in the second period when they recorded a season-high 22 shots after only four in the first. Their first shot cut the deficit to 2-1 at 1:24. Before the crowd could fully enjoy the moment, Samsonov restored the Hurricanes' two-goal edge at 2:05 when he tipped in a shot by defenceman Andrew Alberts.
"It's no mystery we read what is written in the papers here, and it's all about goal scoring," Aaron Ward said. "To open up a 3-1 lead and more or less deflate the momentum that they've got going at that point, it's big."
The quick strike was reminiscent of New York's 4-2 home loss to Pittsburgh on Monday. Just 31 seconds after Artem Anisimov gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the third period of that one, Evgeni Malkin tied it.
In the past four games, the Rangers have been tied or behind for all but those 31 seconds. Before that, they outscored opponents 14-4 in two wins.
"We have a lot of negative stuff coming down on this team right now," captain Chris Drury said. "We have to do the best we can to stay together. We got into this little four-game together and we are going to get out of it together."
NOTES: Whitney stretched his point streak to six games (two goals, six assists). ... New York's previous high for shots in a period this season was 21 in the second at Boston on Jan. 9. ... Samsonov has three goals in five games since returning from injury. ... The Rangers weren't whistled for a penalty until 6:50 left. ... Rangers D Wade Redden was benched after Samsonov's second-period goal.