In a game that will be remembered for a few frightening moments at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers pulled away from the Carolina Hurricanes with two third-period goals in 21 seconds in a 4-1 victory last night.
But the huge relief wasn't only from the four goals scored by the Rangers, who had managed only one in their last two games, both losses (4-1 to the Islanders, and 1-0 to the Canadiens).
The Blueshirts survived with the help of a light-headed Henrik Lundqvist, who was prone on the ice and in pain for several minutes after being struck in the throat by Jay McClement's deflection of Brad Malone's shot three minutes into the second period. After being examined, Lundqvist stayed in the game and finished with 31 saves.
"I got a little worried," Lundqvist said. "The first couple minutes was more of me to see if it was going to start to feel better after a little while, and it slowly did."
His teammates were relieved.
"I thought for sure he would battle through like he did," said Ryan McDonagh, whose stick accidentally lifted Lundqvist's mask to expose his neck. "You know that adrenaline he has -- he's so focused and competitive. It was great for us to see him get going again."
Malone scored three minutes after Lundqvist resumed his stance in the crease, making it 2-1.
"They said he was OK and there was more relief when he stayed in the game," Chris Kreider said. "When you see someone writhing in pain, a guy that plays such a role on your team. It gives you a flashback to Marc [Staal, who was hit in the eye with a deflected shot]. You hate to see that."
By the third period, coach Alain Vigneault's initial line tweaks -- such as pairing J.T. Miller with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash -- were tossed out and the Blueshirts rallied. "The first changes I made didn't work out, but the second ones seemed to spark a little offense," Vigneault said.
Chris Kreider darted to the left post and deposited a tape-to-tape pass from fellow Boston College product Kevin Hayes for an insurance goal at 10:16. Then Dan Boyle, who hadn't hit the scoresheet in eight games, blasted a one-timer from the right point past Cam Ward to seal it.
"Sometimes you get . . . comfortable and almost predictable playing with certain guys, but whatever it was, worked," Kreider said.
The Rangers (28-15-4, 60 points), who had been blanked three times in the previous seven games, moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers trail the first-place Islanders by five points.
Despite being loose defensively -- a trend that would continue -- and being outshot 15-8, the Rangers skated off after 20 minutes with a 2-0 lead. Nash, off a rush, scored an unassisted goal at 6:30 from the top of the right circle. The goal was his 29th of the season and ended a three-game drought.
With Nash in the penalty box, Dom Moore eluded defenseman Justin Faulk at the blue line, then deked Ward and slid a backhander under him at 10:57 for a 2-0 lead. But Lundqvist kept the Rangers ahead until the Hurricanes, who had played Friday, eventually sagged.
"We wanted to close the game out," Kreider said, "and not give them a chance to get back in."