NEW YORK – The high-flying Montreal Canadiens are the only team that brings out the best in the New York Rangers lately.
New York is 2-4-1 in its last seven games, with both wins coming against its Original Six rival from north of the border.
Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes had a goal and an assist apiece, goalie Henrik Lundqvist got back on track, and the Rangers snapped a five-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night.
New York had gone 0-4-1 since a home overtime victory against the Canadiens on Dec. 29.
“It felt good to finally get a win and finally get rewarded,” Lundqvist said. “Parts of our game in the losses we had we played really well but then something happens that makes us lose a little focus, maybe a little confidence. Tonight we worked really hard.”
Lundqvist, whose recent slide cost him an invitation to the all-star game, made 18 saves. He lost his shutout bid 7:10 into the third period on Sergei Kostitsyn’s power-play goal. The Canadiens had scored at least four goals in six of seven.
Lundqvist had been 2-5-2 with a 3.81 goals-against average in his previous nine games after going 16-11-2 with a 1.98 GAA and six shutouts in his first 29.
“Last couple games, I’ve been off to a good start, playing on my toes, but then I let in a couple of goals and start playing on my heels,” he said. “That’s what happens sometimes to me and also to the team when you’re on a losing streak.
“We stayed on it the whole game, and it was a very important win.”
Chris Drury and Martin Straka, in his return from a concussion, scored in the first period for the Rangers. New York, which recorded 41 shots, has beaten Montreal four straight times at home.
It was the Canadiens’ first regulation loss since Dec. 23 (5-0-2), despite eight power plays.
“They played a really good game, but we just didn’t respond,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “Our focus wasn’t there, our passing was horrendous, we didn’t skate with the puck, we didn’t put the puck in the right place, and when the puck was there we just didn’t battle for it.”
As bad as it was, it won’t cost the Canadiens their scheduled day off Sunday in New York before they face the Islanders on Tuesday.
“We didn’t book any ice, and it’s not too easy to find ice in New York,” Carbonneau said.
Prucha and Dawes helped set up each other as New York turned a two-goal lead into a 4-0 edge during a dominant second period. Despite being short-handed four times to only once to the Canadiens, the NHL’s top power-play team overall and on the road, the Rangers scored twice on 15 shots.
Montreal even had a pair of 5-on-3 advantages, one for 1:03 and another for 1:41, but couldn’t get a shot past Lundqvist.
“You’re playing with fire when you do that,” Rangers forward Scott Gomez said. “It’s a credit to the penalty killers, but it’s one area of our game that we need to watch.”
Prucha had to wait to celebrate his fifth goal, as play continued for 36 seconds after New York scored. Prucha deflected a pass from Dawes into the top left corner, but the puck popped out.
After an icing, the officials went to video review while Prucha skated to the bench and nodded confidently to his teammates that the goal was good. Replay quickly confirmed Prucha scored at 5:51.
Dawes scored his sixth during a delayed-penalty call, slipping a shot past Cristobal Huet with 21.1 seconds left in the middle period.
Jaroslav Halak replaced Huet, who made 24 saves, to start the third. Huet hadn’t lost in regulation since Nov. 24 against Buffalo, going 6-0-3 since, including the 4-3 defeat to the Rangers two weeks earlier.
“I tried to keep the team in the game. It wasn’t my best game,” Huet said.
As they did in a 6-2 home loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, the Rangers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period. But unlike that one, they carried that advantage into the second.
Drury got it started 3:17 in when he finished off a pretty give-and-go play with Marcel Hossa. Drury cut from forehand to backhand and beat Huet for his 12th goal.
Another fine pass, this time by Jaromir Jagr, doubled the Rangers’ lead about 10 minutes later. Jagr whiffed on a pass in the left circle, but regained control. He sent a quick, short pass to Straka, who zipped in his eighth at 13:20.
Straka had missed two games since sustaining a concussion last Saturday in Edmonton, and as late as Friday was considered a long shot to face Montreal. He showed no ill-effects after skating Friday for the first time since the injury.
That was important since Brendan Shanahan was forced to sit out due to a hip/hamstring injury incurred in the third period Thursday.
Notes: Rangers D Marek Malik returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for three games. Jason Strudwick sat out. … It marked only the second time since 1964 that the Rangers hosted the Canadiens on a Saturday, traditionally a home day for Montreal. The previous time was Jan. 21, 1995. … Montreal was 1-for-8 on the power play. New York was 0-for-3.