Saturday night in Raleigh the Rangers had to rally twice in the third period before coming away with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in the front end of a weekend home-and-home set that will conclude Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
The victory was New York's season-best fifth in a row, and finished off a sweep of their four-game road trip. It was secured in the shootout when Henrik Lundqvist stopped all three Carolina shooters, and Mats Zuccarello scored in Round One against Cam Ward--who was sensational Saturday with 32 saves.
"As a team we played really well, and I think we deserved to win," said Lundqvist, who has started and won each game in goal during the team's current win streak. "Things happened, but the most important thing is that we never gave up. We kept working really hard, and really deserved this one."
It took the Rangers more than 44 minutes to finally break through against the impressive Ward, but when J.T. Miller scored a power play goal at 4:01 of the third period, the Rangers had pulled even on the scoreboard, 1-1. However just 26 seconds later the Rangers were trailing again as Jeff Skinner beat Lundqvist with a backhander from right wing.
With the Rangers skating on their first full power play of the night, Miller took a long pass from Zuccarello, split the Carolina defense at the 'Canes blue line, and proceeded to deke Ward to the ice before beating him with an in-close shot. It was Miller's fourth goal of the season, and fourth in eight games since being recalled from Hartford.
"I thought we carried the play for the majority of the time, and it was just a matter of time before good things happened," explained Miller, who logged 11:35 Saturday. "It felt awesome (to score), just to get a chance to chip in, get loose during a tight-checking game, and to tie the game."
The Rangers seemed rejuvenated, but their good vibes did not last long. Skinner, played closely by Ryan McDonagh, managed a backhand shot that somehow slipped between the pads of Lundqvist, and just like that New York was trailing 2-1 at 4:27.
"Obviously we are happy when J.T. ties it up, then they get a bounce like that, but I thought the resilience we showed not to let up, saying to each other to keep going--I thought we did a great job of not getting down," said defenseman Kevin Klein, who would become a late-game hero.
Matt Hunwick thought he had tied the game for New York with 12:24 to play in regulation, but his goal was immediately waved off by the officials because Ward's mask was dislodged after a Rick Nash shot moments earlier had ricocheted off of it.
Klein, though, was able to score yet another clutch goal this season, netting the equalizer with two minutes 23 seconds remaining to play in the third period. Chris Kreider won a puck battle in the offensive zone and slid a pass to Klein, who hammered his seventh of the season past Ward, to force this game into overtime.
"Kreids did a great job of getting his head up coming around and finding me," explained Klein. "I was just moving to my left, and I just tried to shoot it by the guy coming out to take my lane away. I just tried to shoot it through his legs and it managed to go in, which is always nice."
Ward was rock solid in stopping all 11 shots he faced in the first period and all 13 he faced in the second, and his teammates found a way to score on one of their 13 shots against Lundqvist to carry a 1-0 lead into the second intermission. The Carolina netminder was forced into making more difficult saves in the first twenty minutes, denying point-blank opportunities by Zuccarello and Hunwick in the opening minutes, and another by Kreider off a two-on-one later in the period.
The most timely of Ward's saves took place around seven minutes into the game, or roughly twenty seconds before the Hurricanes scored the first goal of the game. Ward got just enough of a Kevin Hayes shot off a three-on-two Rangers rush to keep the puck from crossing the goal line; and Carolina eventually took off the other way on a two-on-one of its own, with Chris Terry burying a Nathan Gerbe pass at the 7:20 mark of the first period.
"He played great," Miller said of Ward. "We knew we had the edge most of the game, and we stayed positive on the bench the whole game and we knew something good was going to happen sooner or later."
The Rangers kept up the pressure, had the better of the play and more scoring chances, but could not find a way to dent Ward. Nash nearly did 1:15 into the second period when his left-wing snap shot handcuffed Ward, but the puck slipped through him and rolled just wide of the far post.
Nash was far and away the best skater on the ice for either team--with his play while the Rangers were shorthanded particularly outstanding. He was an absolute force in all three zones, combining Selke-type defensive play with tremendous offensive prowess throughout, though, like his teammates, he still could not find a way to beat Ward.
Saturday marked only the sixth time this season Nash was held pointless, and Carolina has now kept him off the score sheet twice. Nash had scored at least one point in the last eleven games before his scoring streak was stopped Saturday night.
Derick Brassard returned the Rangers lineup Saturday after missing two games while recovering from the mumps. Lee Stempniak did not play, remaining back in New York and isolated from the team with a suspected case of the mumps.