RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes have been putting up some big offensive numbers lately. Then, suddenly those goals became tougher to come by against a more challenging opponent.
They had no need to worry. Not with Cam Ward playing like this in net.
Ward stopped 28 shots in his fifth shutout of the season and the Hurricanes beat the New York Rangers 3-0 Monday night to match a season high with their fourth straight victory.
This one was most fulfilling, coach Paul Maurice said, because it came against a fellow playoff contender and was in doubt for much longer than last week's 9-3 rout of last-place Tampa Bay.
"This game was a lot more fun to coach, and I think if you went around the room, it's a lot more satisfying," Maurice said. "It's the difference between potato chips and steak."
Joe Corvo and Rod Brind'Amour scored, and Tuomo Ruutu added an empty-netter for the Hurricanes, who jumped from ninth in the Eastern Conference into a tie for fifth with Montreal with 77 points in the crowded playoff chase. Carolina has won eight of 10 while equalling the four-game winning streak it had in late December and early January.
"It was a playoff game, in our eyes," Ward said. "Look at the standings. Everybody knows what's at stake."
The Rangers had their three-game winning streak snapped and dropped out of a playoff position for the first time this season. New York, ninth in the East, is 3-2-1 since coach John Tortorella replaced the fired Tom Renney.
"We're just not going to win if we don't score goals," Tortorella said. "We were still there going into the third period, but I just don't think we were consistent with our forecheck. We didn't have the puck enough."
Making his 15th straight start, Ward polished off his 10th career shutout with a stick save on Sean Avery's wrist shot with about two minutes left. That came after the Rangers pulled goalie Steve Valiquette for an extra attacker.
"The puck seemed really big tonight, and that's a credit to those guys," Ward said of Carolina's defencemen. "They boxed them out even though they were trying to create some traffic out front."
Valiquette, starting in place of Henrik Lundqvist, made 33 saves in his first appearance since Feb. 15. Lundqvist backstopped the Rangers' 4-3 victory Sunday over NHL-leading Boston. The Rangers were denied their first four-game winning streak since October, and were shut out for the first time since a 2-0 defeat at Ottawa on Jan. 10.
"He certainly gave us a chance," Tortorella said of Valiquette. "I have no problem with his part. You need to have the puck, and we're working on having the puck. ... You get no run support and it's a loss for us."
New York slowed a Carolina offence that scored 15 goals in two games since reacquiring Erik Cole at the trade deadline. The Hurricanes scored nine in their previous game, their biggest outburst since the franchise moved from Hartford in 1997.
This intense, physical matchup of playoff contenders had a post-season feel, and one goal was all the Hurricanes needed.
Carolina's Matt Cullen won a draw with Brandon Dubinsky in the Hurricanes zone, and the former Rangers forward blocked Michal Rozsival's shot. Cullen brought the puck down the boards before sending it toward the net and off Valiquette's pads. Corvo swooped in and tapped in the rebound for his 13th goal - by far the most by any Hurricanes defenceman - midway in the second period.
"I just had a weird feeling that there was going to be something laying there," Corvo said.
Brind'Amour made it 2-0 during a power play early in the third period. The Carolina captain skated into the left circle and one-timed the puck past Valiquette for his 10th goal and second in two games.
"Roddy's still smart enough to know where to go and what to do," teammate Ray Whitney said. "He's still got the shot - there's no secret there."
The loudest non-goal cheers of the night came late in the second period when Avery was called for interference as he collided with Corvo in front of Ward. Playing his third game since returning to the Rangers, the noted agitator was issued two penalties and was booed nearly every time he touched the puck.
"I know you guys are going to get a story going there. No," Tortorella said. "I thought Sean did some good things tonight. No, I don't think he's getting targeted."
The night didn't go much better for Avery's teammates either, starting shortly after they appeared to take a 1-0 lead 3 1/2 minutes in. The goal was waved off because the play was set up by a hand pass.
Notes: Rangers C Scott Gomez and RW Nikolai Zherdev had their three-game goal streaks ended. ... The game was the 600th in a Carolina uniform for Brind'Amour, and the 200th for Cullen. ... The Hurricanes called up C Brandon Sutter from Albany (AHL) before the game, but he didn't play. ... Jim Craig, the goalie for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that captured the gold medal, sounded the "Hurricane warning" siren before the game.