ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA (TICKER) —After months of mediocrity with the league’s highest payroll, the New York Rangers finally lived up to expectations.
Seven points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, the Rangers relied on their bevy of high-priced superstars to lead them to their first regulation victory in eight trips to Anaheim.
In just his third game back from knee surgery, Bure netted a power-play tally less than two minutes after Steve Rucchin knotted the game 49 seconds into the third period, giving New York a 3-2 lead.
Holik increased the advantage 90 seconds later and beat goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere with a shot from outside the blue line midway through the period to extend the Rangers’ cushion to 5-2.
“Our star players are back, so the team is the way it should be without injuries,” Holik said. “It’s been a very strange year with the strange injuries we’ve had and top players out of the lineup a lot of nights, so now we are together. We’re playing better. It’s the old cliche, one game at a time, and tonight’s game was good.”
Outscored, 64-33, in the third period this season, New York capped the four-goal flurry when Alexei Kovalev netted his fourth in six games since returning to the Rangers in an eight-player trade on February 10.
“Everybody wants to win here. We showed it the last two, three games,” Kovalev said. “It’s too bad this team should have been in a high position and not have to worry about the points. Every game is a playoff game for us right now, but we handle pressure.”
“We played a real good second period and the third period went well for us because of it,” said center Eric Lindros, who collected two assists. “We’re playing decent hockey. We got some big scores tonight.”
Matthew Barnaby also tallied for New York, which improved to 4-4-1-1 under coach Glen Sather and moved within five points of eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference.
“Obviously, if all the teams ahead of us win their games, we’re in trouble,” Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch said. “We need to keep winning and put some pressure on those teams and see what happens.”
“We just have to keep winning,” Kovalev added. “Whatever happens in the end, where we end up, that’s where we’re going to be. We’ll be fine if we get 86, 88 points. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be a lot of pressure, but this team always did good under pressure.”
Samuel Pahlsson netted a goal for the Ducks, who lost for just the second time in eight games.
“It’s tough for us because we were playing so well at home and had a big crowd,” said Anaheim coach Mike Babcock, whose team was playing before the fourth sellout crowd of the season at Arrowhead Pond. “You want these people to come back and it’s really disappointing.”
With Anaheim trailing by a goal after two periods, Rucchin skated into the New York zone 1-on-1 against Vladimir Malakhov. Using the defenseman as a screen, Rucchin beat goalie Mike Dunham with a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle for his second goal in as many games and sixth in nine contests with the Rangers.
But New York regained the lead 1:50 later after the Ducks were penalized for having too many men on the ice.
Standing alone at the right side of the net, Bure took a feed from Petr Nedved, waited to gain full control and lifted a shot under Giguere’s glove to complete his fifth multi-goal effort of the season.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Bure said.
Signed to a five-year, $45 million free agent contract last summer, Holik took a pass off the stick of Radek Dvorak from behind the net and put it past an out-of-position Giguere at 4:09. Holik finished his second two-goal game as a Ranger at 10:03 when the Ducks’ goalie failed to hang onto a slap shot and pushed it over the goal line.
“You can only do what you can do,” Holik said. “There’s always talk, the media always speculates on this and that, but you can only do what you can do and you have to keep that focus.”
“It was just a pretty bad period by me,” Giguere admitted. “They have a lot of skilled players. I was struggling in the third and if you’re struggling, they have the power to put it behind you. It was just one of those games. I can’t put my finger on it, but right now I just want to forget about it. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Anaheim took a 1-0 lead with 1:49 to go in the first period when Pahlsson knocked the rebound of defenseman Lance Ward’s shot past Mike Dunham for his first goal in 13 games since being recalled from the minors.
But the advantage lasted just 24 seconds as Barnaby got a pass from Lindros at the left side of the net and deposited it behind Giguere for his 13th of the season.
“We knew the Ducks were playing well and very strong,” Barnaby said. “We wanted to shut down that big line, obviously. That was our main concern and after that, we wanted to keep it a simple game.”
Bure scored the lone goal of the second period, beating a screened Giguere with a blast from the top of the left circle at the 89-second mark to give New York a 2-1 lead.