Grabner scored three goals, including two late empty-netters, to lead New York to a 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night. The Austrian winger has tallied 30 goals — including three of his five career hat tricks — in his first 102 games with the Rangers.
"There are tons of guys with speed in this game that can really skate, but he's got great hockey sense with it and that's what allows him to get those opportunities," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "I just like the fact that he has great awareness of when and when not to use his speed to go on the attack."
David Desharnais and Paul Carey also scored to help the Rangers win for the ninth time in their last 10 at home and improve to 11-3-0 in their last 14 overall. Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves.
Justin Williams scored 56 seconds into the game to give Carolina the early lead with his 700th career point. Scott Darling finished with 21 saves as the Hurricanes lost their 14th consecutive game at Madison Square Garden, dating back to January 5, 2011.
"I know twice this year they have beaten us by a combined score of 11-2," Williams said. "Something is not right. Something stinks. There are no shortcuts to success, today we tried to get one."
Desharnais tied the score 37 seconds into the second period with a power-play goal. Darling attempted to play the puck outside the crease, but it puck rolled of his stick back into the crease and Desharnais put it in for his third of the season. Darling also allowed a fluky goal in the previous meeting between the teams at home on Nov. 22.
"That was a huge mistake by me," Darling said. "That got them back in the game and then they got the other one. Right now, we don't have a big margin for error. Can't make mistakes like that, that was the difference tonight."
Grabner put the Rangers ahead at 1:52 when he redirected Kevin Shattenkirk's pass to record his 11th goal of the season. J.T. Miller also assisted on the play, giving him a team-high 12 even-strength assists.
Jeff Skinner was awarded a penalty shot for Carolina 3:20 into the third period when Shattenkirk was penalized for slashing. However, Lundqvist was able to make a left pad save to preserve the lead.
"It's always hard to know what they're going to call in that situation," Lundqvist said. "I feel like he (Skinner) got a pretty good opportunity to shoot the puck and then got two chances there."
Grabner then extended the lead with his two empty-net scores 1:01 apart to put the Rangers ahead 4-1 with 1:12 to go. It increased his season total to 13 goals, including six empty-netters. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Grabner became the first Rangers player in the expansion era since 1967-68 to have a pair of empty-net scores in one game.
McDonagh earned an assist on the first one in his first game back after missing the previous four games due to an abdominal strain.
"I thought he was a force out there," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Skated well. Won a lot of his one-on-one battles. That's what we need from our captain."
Carey added a power-play goal with 40 seconds remaining. Carolina was short-handed as a result of losing a coach's challenge on Grabner's second empty-net goal.
NOTES: Rangers leading scorer Mika Zibanejad was out due to a concussion for the second straight game. Desharnais has been thrusted into his spot at center playing alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich and has four points in the two games. ... Lundqvist earned his 418th career win, tying Tony Esposito (Chicago) for second by a goalie with one franchise. Martin Brodeur leads the list with 688 with New Jersey. ... Williams became the third member of the 2000 NHL Draft class to reach the 700-point mark, joining Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley. ... The Hurricanes scratched D Klas Dahlbeck and F Josh Jooris. ... It was Carolina's second regulation loss this season when scoring first (8-2-1) and first time the Hurricanes lost in the front end of a back-to-back this year (4-1-1).
Rangers: At Pittsburgh on Tuesday night to open a two-game road swing.
Hurricanes: Host Florida on Saturday before a six-game trip.
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