NEW YORK (AP)—An old face provided the energy, a new one powered the offense.
The New York Rangers are suddenly on a winning streak and believing this season might turn out well, after all.
Sean Avery was warmly welcomed by Rangers fans in his first home game at Madison Square Garden in nearly a year, and newly acquired forward Nik Antropov had a goal and assist Sunday to lead New York to a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Nikolai Zherdev scored the go-ahead goal with 6:22 left to give the Rangers their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 10-16.
“It is not like we are still sitting pretty in the standings,” forward Scott Gomez said after the victory gave the Rangers a little breathing room in the Eastern Conference playoff race. “Let’s not get carried away, it is just some wins. We will enjoy it, but we have a huge game (Monday), and that is our focus.”
The Rangers will next visit the Carolina Hurricanes, who sit one point behind them near the postseason cutoff.
New York, 3-1-1 since John Tortorella replaced fired coach Tom Renney, has scored at least three goals in each of the wins after netting a total of six in the previous four contests.
“It’s important that the guys continue to grow in confidence with this, but they also have to understand where we’re at,” Tortorella said. “We have to try to do the same things more consistently (Monday).”
Avery, the NHL’s premier pest, landed a hit on his first shift and drew the ire of Milan Lucic, Marc Savard and Mark Recchi during an eventful first period in which he nearly scored and almost set up a goal.
Avery, who rejoined the Rangers this week after being banished by the Dallas Stars following crude comments he made in December, recorded his first point in his second stint with New York. He assisted on Ryan Callahan’s second-period goal that gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead, but that edge was gone before four minutes elapsed in the third.
Zdeno Chara got Boston within one by beating Henrik Lundqvist with a slap shot 2:12 into the third while the teams skated 4-on-4. Michael Ryder tied it 1:35 later with 10 seconds left on Dan Girardi’s four-minute, high-sticking penalty.
Chuck Kobasew had a second-period goal on a breakaway to get Boston even at 1.
Zherdev netted the winner against Manny Fernandez, who got caught out of position while chasing Marc Staal’s shot that went wide. The puck slid past the left post and caromed off the end boards and out the right side to Zherdev, who scored his 19th goal into the open net.
“For whatever reason, I overplayed it and it comes back to bite me,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez made 26 saves but dropped his fifth straight since Jan. 8 (0-3-2) while backing up Tim Thomas. Boston leads New Jersey by eight points in the race for the top seed in the East despite a 1-3-1 skid.
“Good teams will find ways to correct this, and we’re a good team,” defenseman Aaron Ward said of the Bruins, who lead the NHL with 95 points. “We’ve shown ourselves to be capable for the first few months. We haven’t lost it, we’ve just gotten away from it.”
In Avery’s previous Rangers home game, he suffered a lacerated spleen in Game 3 of last year’s second-round playoff series against Pittsburgh. He signed a four-year deal with Dallas during the summer, but was sent away by the Stars following public remarks regarding players dating his former girlfriends.
He heard his name chanted when he first hit the ice 2:53 in and went right after P.J. Axelsson along the boards. Avery got tangled with Lucic and Savard near the benches later in the first and then had an exchange with Recchi. Lucic also fell on Avery along the boards.
The biggest cheer came when his assist was announced to the adoring crowd, where several fans sported jerseys with his name on the back.
“Obviously the two points feel real good,” Avery said. “On a personal note, it felt good to be at home and playing for the fans, just hearing them with me at the Garden.”
Antropov gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 3:01 into the second, and Kobasew tied it 2 minutes later. Gomez restored New York’s lead with 7:48 left in the period and Callahan made it 3-1 at 16:26 with a shot that squeezed through Fernandez as he spun in the crease trying to locate the puck.
“It’s a new start for me,” said Antropov, acquired this week from Toronto. “A new team. A great team. New York, it’s just an awesome feeling.”
Lundqvist finished with 36 saves, and held off Boston in the final 1:22 after Avery took an interference penalty.
Bruins D Steve Montador, acquired Wednesday, missed his second straight game (illness). C Stephane Yelle also sat out after taking a hard hit Saturday against Chicago. … D Derek Morris assisted on Gomez’s goal for his first point since joining the Rangers this week. … New York is 28-3-2 when scoring at least three goals.