Results matter, but so do details.
In their 4-1 win over the Hurricanes at the Garden Tuesday night, the Rangers showed they need some fine-tuning heading into next week’s playoffs.
“You want to get good habits,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves. “You want to try to play the game you want to play next week. You don’t want to change anything, your approach or your focus on the details. It needs to be here now and it needs to be there next week.”
Brad Richards scored two power-play goals, and Benoit Pouliot and Derek Stepan each added an even-strength marker.
With the win, they maintained a two-point lead over Philadelphia for second place in the Metropolitan Division, even though the Flyers routed Florida, 5-2, Tuesday. Philadelphia has three games remaining this season. Under the new playoff format, the second- and third-place teams in each division will meet in the first round, while the division winners will take on the two wild cards.
“We put ourselves in a position to control [having home ice in the first round],” Stepan said. “We want to [play] our best hockey by the time playoffs come.”
Against a team who will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth straight season, and will soon begin the decision-making process on the futures of general manager Jim Rutherford, head coach Kirk Mueller, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner, Eric and Jordan Staal and right wing Alex Semin, the Rangers were not especially crisp in the opening 30 minutes of a game. But the Rangers finished with more shots on goal (36-28) and attempted shots (70-52).
After 40 minutes, Carolina and the Rangers each had 21 shots on goal, and the Hurricanes had stretches of extended time in the offensive zone.
“You can get sucked into [a back-and-forth] game because they come so hard,” Richards said. “Sometimes your tendency is to anticipate that a puck is going to get by a guy — sometimes it does — and when that happens you start feeling like there’s a lot of ice out there, and when it doesn’t you’re caught going the wrong way. We just need to tighten that up a bit.”
The Rangers and Hurricanes traded goals in the first, with Patrick Dwyer scoring at 3:22 and Richards answering on the power play at 15:44. Both teams could have had more as Lundqvist stoned Semin on a breakaway, and Jay Harrison’s stick blade robbed Mats Zuccarello of a sure goal before the end of the period.
Pouliot’s off-wing drive 50 seconds into the second gave the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish, and Richards’ second power-play goal pushed the advantage to 3-1. The Rangers finished the game 2-for-3 on the man advantage.
“It’s been tough the last four, five weeks,” Richards said of a power play that had been 7-for-57 dating back to Feb. 27. “Everything came off of shots tonight.”
Stepan’s goalmouth tap-in of a Martin St. Louis feed 4:38 into the third increased the lead to 4-1. The assist was the third of the game for St. Louis, who now has seven points as a Ranger since the March 5 trade-deadline blockbuster that saw the future Hall of Famer acquired for Ryan Callahan.
“You knew it was a matter of time before he figured it out,” Stepan said of St. Louis. “He’s going to be a big part of our push in the end.”
Prior to the game, Zuccarello was named the winner of the 2013-14 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. It marked the first time Zuccarello won the award named in honor of a New York City police officer who was paralyzed while on duty. Zuccarello became only the third non-North American to win the award. The others were Jan Erixon (1987-88 and 1990-91) and Henrik Lundqvist (2005-06). Adam Graves and Callahan are tied for the most Extra Effort Awards with five each.
“I am really humbled,” Zuccarello said. “There are so many guys here that deserve this prize and for me to get it, it’s pretty humbling.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.