New York won its third straight despite playing without Callahan, who missed the game because of a bruised right foot. Backup goalie Martin Biron (11-3-2) made 21 saves. No. 1 netminder Henrik Lundqvist is expected to play Friday night when the Rangers visit Tampa Bay.
"We grinded it away, and Marty (Biron) made some key saves at some real important times of the game when we had some struggles," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It was one of his better games, bouncing back after a couple of games where it has been a little bit of a fight for him."
One of the key stretches for Biron came late when the Rangers had to kill six minutes of penalties. Carolina peppered him with 10 shots in the final period.
"We were able to kill off some big penalties, especially that four-minute PK," Biron said. "That was a huge stand for us to do that. That was the game for us to keep them off the board."
Gaborik reached the 30-goal mark for the seventh time in his NHL career. He gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with 5:07 left in the second period when he poked the puck in at the left post after it sailed high and landed in the crease.
"It feels nice, but we still have a lot of games left," Gaborik said. "I want to put up some more goals. We have a tough stretch coming up with a lot of games in March. Hopefully we'll get healthy and keep plugging away."
Artem Anisimov also scored for the Rangers (41-15-6), who have a nine-point lead in the East. New York has 21 home wins and 20 road wins this season.
Following Gaborik's goal, Brandon Prust made it 3-1 at 1:57 of the third when he finished off a 2-on-1 break with Brian Boyle.
"There's a reason why they're on top," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. "They just go and roll along and play good. Our guys knew it was going to be that kind of game. We fell short but we pushed. They make it difficult to play against."
Carolina made a big offensive push in the final five minutes when it got a four-minute power play after John Mitchell was given a double high-sticking penalty. But the Hurricanes were unable to score despite pulling Ward for an extra skater for the last half of the power play.
Jay Harrison brought the Hurricanes back within a goal when he scored with 40 seconds left, after Ward was pulled for an extra attacker.
Ward finished with 22 saves.
Carolina captain Eric Staal has assists in nine straight games, the longest streak since the team moved from Hartford. He has points in 10 consecutive games. ... The Rangers are 26-0-2 when leading after two periods. ... New York's Derek Stepan had a pair of assists. ... Callahan missed his first game of the season.