The New York Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak by continuing their domination of the Carolina Hurricanes last week. Extending it Tuesday night would bring resurgent New York a third consecutive victory.
Seeking their 11th straight win and seventh in a row on the road in the series, the Rangers open a three-game trip with their second game in five days in Raleigh, facing a Hurricanes team that's dropped seven of eight overall.
The Rangers (35-26-4) began putting a post-Olympic break funk behind them with a 4-2 road victory over Carolina on Friday, outscoring the Hurricanes 4-1 in the third period and holding a 44-24 shot advantage. They then picked up a key win over Eastern Conference opponent Detroit on Sunday, with Henrik Lundqvist making 30 saves in a 3-0 home win that was his 300th career victory.
"This was a playoff-type game for both teams," coach Alain Vigneault told the team's official website. "Points are very hard to come by, everybody is bunched together. You have to make sure you make the high-percentage plays, and keep making the high-percentage plays, and that's what we did. We had a few breakdowns, but when we did Hank did what he's done real well this year, make those key saves."
New York moved three points up on the Red Wings and one point ahead of Philadelphia for the second playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.
"I think this has been the blueprint since Day One," center Derek Stepan told the team's website of the Rangers' solid all-around game Sunday. "I think as a group we are getting better and better, and as the season goes on we're going to have to be even better because the games are not going to get any easier with teams fighting to get into the playoffs."
Chris Kreider scored twice in the third period after managing two goals in his previous 17 games.
The Rangers have outscored the Hurricanes 40-19 during their 10 straight wins in the series, and they've taken eight of nine at Raleigh.
That could spell trouble for Carolina (27-28-9), which has allowed 30 goals during its 1-7-0 stretch. The Hurricanes erased a three-goal deficit in New Jersey on Saturday but allowed former teammate Tuomo Ruutu, dealt to the Devils on Wednesday, to score the winning goal less than a minute after Carolina tied it in the third period of a 5-4 loss.
"Everyone stayed positive (when we were down 4-2 after two periods)," defenseman Ryan Murphy told the NHL's official website. "We're getting to the point in the year where these points are very critical and we can't be giving up points like that so everyone was staying positive in the dressing room and we did a good job of getting back into the game but unfortunately came up short."
Carolina's playoff chances don't appear good, as the club will need to pass five teams for the final wild-card spot in the East.
Lundqvist has posted a 1.47 goals-against average in winning his last six starts against the Hurricanes.
Stepan has a goal and eight assists during a six-game point streak, and he's recorded seven goals and six assists in his last eight games against Carolina.
Teammate Brad Richards has four goals and seven assists in the last 10 in this series, while Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh has three goals and two assists in his past four games overall.
The Hurricanes' Alexander Semin had a goal and an assist Saturday and has two goals and three assists in his last five contests. He's recorded three goals and three assists in his past six against New York.