With his team having won five straight games entering play Sunday--all with Henrik Lundqvist in goal--Cam Talbot surely did not want the Rangers longest winning streak of the season to end on his watch. So Talbot stopped all 18 shots he faced as the Rangers finished a sweep of a weekend home-and-home set with the Carolina Hurricanes, winning 1-0 Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Though his teammates played exceptionally well in front of him and he was not tested all that often, Talbot was still sharp Sunday, earning his third shutout of the season--in only his seventh start. In fact all three of Talbot's wins in 2014-15 have come via the shutout, as his record now stands at 3-3-1. Sunday's shutout also came just two days after Talbot had agreed to terms on a contract extension with the team through the 2015-16 season.
"You never want to be the guy to come in and break the winning streak, that's never a good thing," said a smiling Talbot after the game. "It wasn't really on my mind. I was just trying to go out there and give us a chance to win. I didn't really have to do a whole lot tonight, the guys in front of me did an unbelievable job and did most of the work for me."
Sunday's game mirrored Saturday's through 40 minutes, with one important exception. On Saturday the Rangers trailed the Hurricanes 1-0 after two periods of play and on Sunday it was the Rangers on top 1-0 heading into the third period.
Nearly identical, though, was the Blueshirts' shots advantage, which was 24-13 after two periods on Saturday, and 24-14 in the same time span Sunday. Similar, too, was the strong goaltending that kept an outplayed Carolina team in the game on both nights. Saturday Cam Ward was a virtual one-man show, finishing the night with 32 saves, while Anton Khudobin fairly matched the 'Canes No. 1 netminder 24 hours later at The Garden, ending the evening with 30 saves.
The Rangers charged out of the gates to open the game, recording seven of the game's first nine shots on goal, and scoring just 4:10 into the contest. Ryan McDonagh crept in from the left point and beat Khudobin with a one-timer from in-close--off a pretty feed from behind the goal line by Derek Stepan--to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
"I think we were excited to be back at home," said McDonagh. "It felt like a while since we've been back here and it was good to hear our crowd again and use that momentum and energy for us."
The goal was McDonagh's second of the season--and second in the past five games. Stepan notched his fourth point in the last three games (1-3-4) with the primary assist, and Mats Zuccarello recorded his sixth point in the past six games (2-4-6) after being credited with the secondary assist on McDonagh's goal.
New York surged early and late in the opening period, but McDonagh's goal was the only one allowed by Khudobin--who made a splendid one-on-one pad save to rob a wide open Kevin Hayes with 30 seconds remaining in the period.
For the second straight night Matt Hunwick came close to scoring a clutch goal for the Rangers, but video review upheld on-ice calls that went against him and his team. On Saturday he beat Ward with a third-period slap shot which would have tied the score, 2-2, at the time, but the play was ruled dead when Ward's mask came off. On Sunday Hunwick made a slick move to the net 1:49 into the second period and his shot hit Khudobin's glove, the cross bar, and the back of the Hurricanes goalie before falling just shy of the goal line.
At the other end of the ice Talbot faced only four shots in the first period, but was busier in the second facing--and stopping--ten shots on goal. Talbot's best save was a sharp blocker stop 8:25 into the second on a quick one-timer off the stick of Carolina's John-Michael Liles. He again faced only four shots in period number three.
"It was a lot of fun, not a whole lot of work, so that's always a good thing," said Talbot, who had not started since December 6th in Detroit. "We knew we had to match their work ethic, and I think we came out and did that."
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi reached a career milestone Sunday, playing in his 600th National Hockey League game. He became the 20th player, and only ninth defenseman--to have played in at least 600 games in franchise history.
"It means a lot," Girardi said of playing 600 games. "I came a long way from where I started. To play 600 games for the Blueshirts is something really special."
Girardi very nearly scored a goal in his 600th game, but could not lift the disc over a prone Khudobin with less than two minutes to play in regulation.
"We have a good feeling in the room here," offered Girardi. "We are not flying too high, but we are feeling good about our game and how we need to play it. Finally we are getting more than two or three (wins) in a row--we have six. You always want to keep going."
Now tied with the Washington Capitals for third place in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers put their six-game winning streak on the line Tuesday when they host the Caps in the final game before the Christmas holiday break.