NEW YORK (AP) — Alex Auld’s finish went a whole lot better than the start.
Take away Brandon Dubinsky’s rush through the Montreal end less than 5 minutes in, and the career backup might have celebrated a shutout at Madison Square Garden.
Auld and the Canadiens shook off that early blemish and kept the New York Rangers at bay the rest of the way in a tight 2-1 victory on Tuesday night. Montreal was 3-0-1 in its previous four games — all decided after regulation — before gutting out a win with a tiebreaking goal in the third period.
“We did a good job of sticking with our game plan. That early goal, we didn’t get down about it. We stayed with it and kept coming,” said Auld, 4-0-2 against the Rangers.
He entered with a goals-against average of 0.97 versus New York with a .966 save percentage. With the success he’s had in New York, perhaps the Rangers should have kept him for more than the three games he played with them last season.
“My only loss here was a shootout loss and I still got a shutout,” he said. “Everything about this city gives me so much energy.”
Auld stopped 25 shots and earned his third win of the season despite getting into only six games with Montreal while backing up All-Star Carey Price.
Jaroslav Spacek scored the tying goal in the second period and Benoit Pouliot put Montreal ahead for good in the third as the Canadiens snapped the Rangers’ three-game winning streak.
Spacek connected for the first time in 29 games with 1:11 left in the middle period after the Canadiens controlled play in the Rangers’ end for about two consecutive minutes. Pouliot scored his second in three games with a tough-angle shot 6:03 into the third.
New York came out flying early, buoyed by consecutive one-goal wins at Dallas and St. Louis, but couldn’t sustain the momentum after Dubinsky gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 4:15 in. Henrik Lundqvist, named an NHL All-Star earlier Tuesday, was solid in making 36 saves, but regretted not stopping Pouliot’s winning drive.
“He probably took the perfect shot there from the corner,” Lundqvist said. “It is a shot I want to have back, but a lot of times that is the way I play it. I still have to make the save.
The Rangers were the dominant team in the first period, even though they were outshot 14-9.
Less than a minute after newly acquired Wojtek Wolski nearly scored with a hard one-timer in close off a crisp pass from Marian Gaborik, Dubinsky gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
Dubinsky took a pass from defenseman Matt Gilroy and streaked down the right wing. He blew past diving defenseman Hal Gill as he made a hard cut to the net with one hand on his stick. He gathered himself in front and snapped a shot past Auld. Dubinsky has 17 goals, three off his career high established last season.
“He was coming with a lot of speed,” Gill said. “We were trying to keep our gap and I kept too much of a gap, I guess.”
Lundqvist started the play and has earned an assist in a Rangers’ record three straight appearances, giving him a career best of four this season.
Montreal found its legs early in the second and showed more life throughout the period. It paid off when they camped out in the Rangers’ zone later.
After moving the puck skillfully around the New York end, Spacek put a shot on net that got through traffic and found its way past Lundqvist under a pileup in the crease. A brief video replay confirmed Spacek’s second of the season.
“We had opportunities to get it out early, we didn’t,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “Then we just couldn’t grab a hold of it.”
Pouliot snapped the tie after taking a pass from defenseman James Wisniewski and carrying the puck up ice. He let go a shot from deep in the left circle that sneaked in over Lundqvist’s right shoulder.
Rangers captain Chris Drury just missed scoring when his drive with 4:40 left in the second rattled off the goal post.
Wolski showed flashes in his Rangers debut, one day after being acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes for veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival. Wolski was put on a line with Gaborik and Artem Anisimov with the hope he will pick up some of the scoring slack created by injuries to forwards Alex Frolov, Ryan Callahan, Vinny Prospal, and Erik Christensen.
Wolski nearly tied it with 3 minutes left, but his shot from the low right circle hit Auld’s pad and tantalizingly slid safely across the crease.
“I thought it hit the post and went in,” Wolski said. “It was a lucky bounce that went his way.”
NOTES: The last NHL goalie with an assist in three straight games was Dallas’ Ed Belfour from Nov. 23-Dec. 2, 2001, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. … Canadiens LW Mike Cammalleri didn’t make the trip because of an illness that forced him out of Saturday’s win over Boston. … New York hasn’t won four straight since Dec. 17-23, 2009. … Dubinsky has 17 points in 18 games — five goals and 12 assists.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)