Henrik Lundqvist earned the 300th win of his NHL career in high-style Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, leading the Rangers to a 3-0 shutout victory over the Detroit Red Wings. In the process Lundqvist picked up his 49th career shutout, tying Ed Giacomin's regular-season franchise record.
"It's a lot of fun when you start thinking about it," a smiling Lundqvist said in the postgame dressing room while wearing the Broadway Hat. "I started thinking about it after two periods--why not go for a doughnut in this game and reach 300 wins? It was a good challenge for me."
Lundqvist became just the 29th goaltender all-time to reach 300 victories, the sixth active netminder to do so, and the fifth fastest ever to reach the milestone, doing so in 560 career games--39 shy of Jacques Plante who accomplished the feat in his 521st contest.
He is now one win shy of equaling Mike Richter's franchise record of 301 wins. Depending on which games he starts, Lundqvist could tie and possibly break Richter's mark this week on the road where the Rangers play three straight away from The Garden--Tuesday in Carolina, Thursday in Minnesota and Friday in Winnipeg. The Rangers next home game is next Sunday against the San Jose Sharks.
"It's a great feeling to be up there with those guys," Lundqvist said, referring to Ranger legends Richter and Giacomin. "The organization has been around for so long, so to be up there with them it's very special and I am proud just thinking about it."
The victory was also the second straight for both Lundqvist and the team following a three-game winless skid (0-2-1). Lundqvist made 30 saves to help the Blueshirts earn two important points in the standings, and raise their total to 74 on the season.
"This was a playoff-type game for both teams," explained Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "Points are very hard to come by, everybody is bunched together. You have to make sure you make the high-percentage plays, and keep making the high-percentage plays, and that's what we did. We had a few breakdowns, but when we did Hank did what's he'd done real well this year, make those key saves."
Holding a slim 1-0 lead after two periods of play, Chris Kreider provided Lundqvist and the Rangers some breathing room by scoring his 15th goal of the season just 14 seconds into the third period. Stationed in front of Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard Kreider neatly deflected Ryan McDonagh's slap shot into the cage.
Later in the period Kreider scored again, this time off a 2-on-1 rush with Derek Stepan, beating Howard with a laser from left wing. With 16 goals Kreider now ranks fourth among NHL rookies this season, and his 34 points are now tied for fourth most among first-year players in the league.
"It's so well deserved," Kreider said of Lundqvist's dual accomplishments Sunday. "He's the best goalie in the world, best around the league, and we're luck enough to have him on our team. We're all extremely, extremely happy for him. Hopefully he'll get 300 more!"
Stepan and McDonagh assisted on both of Kreider's goals. Stepan now has a six-game point-scoring streak, and McDonagh has produced points in four straight games.
"I think this has been the blueprint since Day One," Stepan said of the Rangers' solid play at both ends of the ice Sunday. "I think as a group we are getting better and better, and as the season goes on we're going to have to be even better because the games are not going to get any easier with teams fighting to get into the playoffs."
Brian Boyle scored the all-important first goal of the game, collecting a loose puck in the slot and firing a low hard shot off Howard and over the goal line just 5:14 into the first period. The goal was Boyle's 5th of the season, and first in nine games, for a Rangers team that is now 26-5-1 when scoring first.
After Boyle's goal both Lundqvist and Howard settled in to quite the goalie duel--similar to their terrific head-to-head battle the last time these two teams met at The Garden on January 16th, a 1-0 Rangers win in which Howard stopped 47 of 48 shots and Lundqvist finished with 38 saves,
Though neither faced the same quantity or quality of shots this time around, both were extremely sharp with Howard tested more often in the opening period and Lundqvist making the more difficult saves in the second. Lundqvist only faced seven shots in the middle stanza, but he shined in denying Todd Bertuzzi's point-blank power play shot with about eight minutes to play in the period, and also stoned Tomas Tatar from the low slot several minutes later.
In one funny sequence Lundqvist had the net land on top of him and trap him like a cage late in the second period. Detroit's Justin Abdelkader shouldered New York's Anton Stralman hard into the side of the net forcing it to topple on top of Lundqvist, who crouched down low and then slid himself out the open back after the whistle was blown.
Abdelkader's hit on Stralman was just one example of the physical nature of this game, which was both hard-hitting and chippy at times. Boyle, Kreider and Benoit Pouliot led the Rangers physical play, and several of the players engaged in mini-wars with their Red Wing counterparts throughout the afternoon with the referees by and large letting the players play, keeping their whistles fairly silent throughout.
In the end, it was one of the Rangers' most impressive and complete victories of the season; and it was a fitting way for Lundqvist to have reached the 300-win milestone in his career.
"It's something he should be proud of, it's really cool," Stepan said of Lundqvist's accomplishments. "And I wouldn't expect anything less from him than a shutout in his 300th!"