It wasn't exactly how the Rangers would have drawn up their sixth straight win.
Ryan McDonagh's goal at 4:10 of the first period proved to be the only score of the game Sunday night as backup goaltender Cam Talbot made 18 saves in posting his third shutout of the season. It was Talbot's first start since a 31-save effort two Saturdays ago.
Leading by a goal, the Blueshirts made defense the name of the game.
They had just one shot in the first half of the third period. With 6:45 left in regulation, Mats Zuccarello found Derick Brassard open on the left side on the rush, but Carolina's Anton Khudobin (30 saves) darted to his right to keep it a one-goal game.
With 3:48 to go in regulation, the Rangers, 0-for-2 on power plays, had a chance to salt away a win, but they couldn't set up until Martin St. Louis had two chances near the end. Khudobin went to the bench for an extra attacker right after that but Carolina couldn't get a tie.
It was the Rangers' first 1-0 victory of the season.
The Blueshirts (17-10-4) showed no signs of taking the Canes lightly in the second game of a home-and-home, back-to-back after a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday.
After dominating the first three minutes at Madison Square Garden in their first home game since beating the Penguins in overtime on Dec. 8, Derek Stepan won a puck battle behind the net and found McDonagh on the doorstep.
The Rangers captain beat Khudobin low glove-side with his second goal of the season for a 1-0 lead. It was Stepan's 15th assist in 19 games since returning from a broken left fibula suffered in training camp.
The Blueshirts finished the period with an 11-8 shot advantage and killed a power play at 8:24 when Brassard was sent off for interference. They have killed 15 of the last 16 shorthanded opportunities.
Down 1-0, Carolina changed its strategy, opting to retreat around the crease to protect Khudobin, who has yet to win this season.
At 1:49 of the second, Matt Hunwick's shot popped up and over the fallen goaltender, who reached back to swat the puck under him. The on-ice call was no goal, and a video review in Toronto supported it. However, MSG had an angle that showed the puck over the goal line.
Talbot, who signed a one-year, $1.45-million contract extension on Friday, was a lot busier in the second as he made 10 saves.
At 8:25, Kevin Klein's turnover, after trying to stickhandle through a couple forwards in his own end, led to Talbot's best stop. The goalie blockered away an open shot from John-Michael Liles.
Rick Nash, whose 11-game point streak ended on Saturday, had several shifts where he controlled play in the offensive zone, but neither he nor his teammates could cash in on two power plays. One was at 9:46, when Justin Faulk was sent off for high-sticking Zuccarello; the second when Elias Lindholm was sent off for holding Brassard's stick at 15:47.
The Rangers have won 14 of their last 15 against Carolina dating to Feb. 22, 2011, and are 3-0 against the Canes this season. The Rangers host the Capitals Tuesday before a three-day holiday break.