Lundqvist delivers a hard-earned point for Rangers
|Rangers forward Donald Brashear, who returned to the lineup from an injury, chases after the puck in front of Blackhawks goaltender Cristobal Huet on Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers received a brilliant performance from Henrik Lundqvist
on Wednesday night, but were unable to fully cash in, falling 2-1 in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Despite the loss, the Rangers earned an important point in the tight Eastern Conference standings.
Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien scored the game-winning goal with 1:17 remaining in overtime. Byfuglien showed tremendous speed skating past Rangers’ defenseman Matt Gilroy
before cutting towards the net and slipping the puck between Lundqvist’s pads.
Moments before the game-deciding score, Vinny Prospal
faced a wide-open net at the other end of the ice, but had his shot blocked in front with Chicago goalie Cristobel Huet out of position after denying Marc Staal
’s tip in front.
“We were so close to getting those two points,” said Lundqvist. “Somehow right now we’re having a tough time to find ways to win games like this.”
Lundqvist finished with a season-high 39 saves for the Rangers, four shy of his career-best of 43 which was accomplished on December 14, 2006, in a 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars.
“Henrik was about the only one who played (tonight),” said a frustrated Rangers head coach John Tortorella after the game.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the third period, the Rangers had to survive a pair of man-disadvantage situations when Artem Anisimov
-- at 5:43 -- and Michal Rozsival
-- at 9:43 - both took penalties. But led by the inspired play of Chris Drury
, Ryan Callahan
, Brian Boyle
, Staal, and the other penalty killers, the Rangers denied Chicago both times.
However, when Dan Girardi
tripped Patrick Kane at 13:03, it was a case of one too many penalties taken by the Rangers. Chicago finally broke through against Lundqvist on their 35th shot of the night, and tied the game 1-1 with 5:55 left to play. Jonathan Toews scored off a wild scramble after Lundqvist had already dived from side to side to make a pair of stops.
On their heels for much of the third period, the Rangers managed only one shot on goal in the final period.
“We worked so hard to try and get the win, it hurts so much, especially when you give up the late goals and not be able to get the two points,” said Lundqvist. “It’s painful. Not being able to get the two points hurts.”
Through 40 minutes of play, Lundqvist was hands-down the best player on the ice for either team, stopping all 30 shots he faced, making the slimmest of 1-0 leads hold up for the Rangers.
Right from the first drop of the puck, Lundqvist was intensely focused and clearly on top of his game. Perhaps motivated by the late he goal he surrendered in Sunday’s 3-1 home-ice loss to the Detroit Red Wings -- one that he blamed himself for following that contest -- Lundqvist seemed more determined than ever to carry his team to victory.
And with how well the Blackhawks were playing, it seemed at times that Lundqvist was going to have to put all 19 teammates on his back and will them to a victory.
“The way Hank played, he really deserved the two points,” said Staal.
Christopher Higgins provided Lundqvist a lead to work with when he netted his second goal in the last three games at 12:10 of the first period. Marian Gaborik
collected the puck at center ice, played give-and-go on right wing with Rozsival in the ‘Hawks zone, and then sent a slick cross-ice pass to Higgins on left wing. Higgins roofed his shot from the left dot, beating Huet to the short side, for his fourth goal of the season, and the Rangers netted the first goal of the game for the fifth straight contest.
The rest was left up to Lundqvist, as the Rangers were outshot 16-5 in the opening period. And although the Rangers took 10 shots in the second period, they only had one or two prime scoring chances, including a rebound attempt by Donald Brashear
from the doorstep which required a sharp pad save by Huet. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks had the better opportunities to score among their 14 shots during the second period.
Yet because of Lundqvist’s brilliant play, the Rangers nursed that 1-0 lead into the third period.
“It seemed like they had the puck all night long,” said Staal. “We were chasing a lot, and that wears on guys.”
Perhaps Lundqvist’s best sequence of the night came during the waning seconds of the first period. Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith wound up and let loose a booming slap shot from left wing that whistled through a maze of players in front of the net. Positioned perfectly, Lundqvist moved to his right to make the pad save with five seconds left on the clock.
The puck, though, skimmed back to Brent Seabrook, who calmly settled it down and then blasted a shot through a screen, forcing Lundqvist to make another terrific stop, this time with only one second remaining in the period.
In the second period Lundqvist victimized Chicago’s John Madden, Marian Hossa, Ben Eager, and Toews on prime scoring opportunities. However, he saved his best for Andrew Ladd, whose open, quick shot from the low slot seemed ticketed for the upper part of the net, but was kept out by Lundqvist’s lightning-fast left arm.
Early in the third period, several stunned ‘Hawks were left with their sticks high in the air to celebrate an apparent goal when Brian Campbell’s slap shot was redirected perfectly, catching Lundqvist moving to his right as the puck deflected to his left. Lundqvist, though, flashed out his glove and snared the puck, another successful robbery on this night.
“That’s the best team we’ve played all year long,” Tortorella said of the Blackhawks. “You have to give them some credit, and I understand that. But I thought we stunk tonight. Though we end up getting a point, it’s unacceptable.”
The Rangers return home for a three-game homestand that begins on Saturday night with a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres. After that the Blueshirts host the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday and the Islanders next Wednesday.
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