PHILADELPHIA — You could tell Henrik Lundqvist was on his game Saturday. With the Rangers desperate for points, the team’s most valuable player for the last two seasons had made 34 saves through overtime.
Then it was up to him to go a step further to secure two points. He had to face three of the Flyers’ most dangerous weapons in the shootout: rookie Shayne Gostisbehere, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Lundqvist denied all three attempts and Mats Zuccarello scored against Steve Mason, lifting the Rangers to a 3-2 win. “I [didn’t play well] the whole game, so it was nice to help,” Zuccarello said.
Actually, the Rangers, behind the exemplary play from Lundqvist, played a gritty, greasy, emotional game to snap the Flyers’ four-game winning streak, and sent the Rangers to Washington, where they play Sunday, on a high note. They had 30 shots on goal, 30 hits, and 30 blocks in the same game for the first time since the league began tracking real-time stats in 1997-98.
The Rangers, 24-15-5, but 8-10-3 on the road, had surrendered a one-goal lead in third period in the 3-1 loss to the Islanders on Thursday, and allowed a tying power-play goal by Wayne Simmonds midway through the third Saturday to make the score 2-2.
“We didn’t let it bother us,” said Dan Girardi. “We just tried to keep going and Hank made a couple of nice saves in the shootout. We just kept battling all game, just taking bodies and blocking shots, we just kept plugging away.”
With the victory, Lundqvist became the first goaltender in NHL history to post at least 20 wins in each of his first 11 seasons and set a Rangers record for the most 20-win seasons in franchise history. He and Mike Richter were tied with 10.
“I take a lot of pride in my numbers,” said Lundqvist. “I work hard and want to make the most of my career, and help this team win games. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve been part of some many great teams with great players.”
Some of that is self-effacing. Lundqvist seems to have regained his form, playing well in the 2-1 win over Boston on Monday, allowing just two goals against the Islanders on Thursday, and shutting the door Saturday when it counted.
“Technically, I feel like I’m playing my game in the last four or five,” he said, “and then mentally, you regain confidence when you win for sure, but you just feel like you’re doing the right things. It got away from me for a stretch; I thought I was challenging a little too much, but today, I thought I was standing still a lot and just waiting for the shooter.”
In the second period, with the score tied 1-1 on goals from Brayden Schenn and J.T Miller’s ninth of the year, a power play tally that broke the Rangers’ 0-for-19 slide, Chris Kreider raced down the middle to redirect Rick Nash’s backhand pass from the right wall past Mason at 4:49 for a 2-1 lead. It was Kreider’s first goal since Dec. 20 and the relief was evident in his celebration. But the Flyers outshot the Rangers in the second 11-4, in part because of two power plays, punctuated by saves from Lundqvist, who was making his 12th straight start.
“As a goalie, it’s your job to give them confidence,” he said. “If it’s going to be a tight game, you have to come up with the saves at the right time, and if you don’t it’s a tougher game for everyone.”