Then they got down to concentrating on the scoreboard.
"That's exactly what we needed to do," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said of the physical play. "We talked about everything before the game. Whatever game was going to be played tonight, we were going to be ready."
New York had won two in a row overall before the All-Star break but has lost six in a row on the road.
"Tough loss," Lundqvist said. "We were really looking forward to coming back and getting a good start."
The first period featured 66 minutes in penalties.
The physical play boiled over when Walker drove New York's Scott Gomez into the boards a little over four minutes into the game. Avery came after Walker, which started a melee that entangled all 10 players on the ice. Gleason was ejected because he was the third man in on the Avery-Walker scrum. Avery received a 10-minute misconduct.
Later in the period, Brookbank and Orr dropped the gloves for a second time.
"[The first-period fights] let guys know we were going to do whatever it takes to win," Walker said. "Then the gifted guys on our team could say, 'I'll have more freedom to do what I want.'"
The rough stuff between the teams wasn't a complete surprise. In a game in New York on Dec. 26, Orr leveled Carolina's Matt Cullen with a hit that left Cullen with a concussion. Avery also punched the Hurricanes' Andrew Ladd while Ladd was being restrained by an official, breaking a bone underneath Ladd's eye in the process.
"These are big points for both teams," New York coach Tom Renney said. "These are battles, so you're never surprised by a physical game. You shouldn't be, anyway."
Emotions cooled after the first period, benefiting Carolina.
The Rangers had taken advantage of the Hurricanes' league-worst penalty kill in the first, taking a 1-0 lead when Shanahan beat Ward with a slap shot at the 1:02 mark.
After New York missed on an odd-man opportunity in the second, Ray Whitney skated down the right side on a two on one, faked a shot and then got the puck across to Samsonov, who backhanded it past a sliding Lundqvist. It was Samsonov's third goal in nine games with Carolina after not scoring in 23 games for Chicago.
"I think he likes it here," Laviolette said. "I think he's happy in Carolina. We're certainly happy with him."
Following a turnover by New York's Martin Straka at the Carolina blue line just over two minutes later, Brind'Amour went the other way on a two on one. He used Samsonov as a decoy before shifting the puck to his backhand to beat Lundqvist.
"I tried to be patient," Lundqvist said. "I went down on my right leg and then I was kind of stuck. He went around me."
Letowski put the game out of reach early in the third period, finishing on the rush after a nice pass from Chad LaRose.
The Rangers will hope to turn around their road woes in a hurry -- their next three games are away from Madison Square Garden.
"I wish I had some answers, but I don't really," Avery said.
New York is last in the Atlantic Division but entered the night with more points than Carolina. New York defenseman Jason Strudwick took a slap shot off his helmet in the first period. ... Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg missed the game with an injured ankle. ... New York left winger Marcel Hossa (back) didn't dress. ... Carolina had a lengthy two-man advantage in the first period but couldn't convert.