Henrik Lundqvist was sharp between the pipes, and Chris Kreider scored late in the third period, to lift the Rangers to a 3-2 road victory over the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night as the team snapped a mini two-game skid. The victory was also New York's 25th on the road this season, tying the franchise record which was originally set last year in Alain Vigneault's first season as head coach of the Rangers.
"We all know (Lundqvist) has not had a lot of practice time, but he was going to find a way to find his rhythm," said Vigneault after the in. "In the third he had a couple big saves to make; and I'm happy how the guys played in front of him and were able to get him the go-ahead goal to get him the win tonight."
With the score tied 2-2 with under four minutes to play in regulation Kreider blew past the Jets defense after taking a pinpoint pass from J.T. Miller and then scored a highlight-reel goal in which he himself ended up in the back of the net alongside the puck. Kreider's 21st goal of the season, at 16:14 of the third period, gave New York its first lead of the night, and held up as the game-winner.
Henrik Lundqvist, starting for the second time since returning from a vascular injury this past weekend, made 32 saves in the victory Tuesday.
"It feels good for a couple of reasons," Lundqvist told MSG Network after the game. "I feel like it was an important game for us to bounce back after two losses. For me, to get a win and feel good about that--and also just to have a solid game. I felt like I was doing a lot of good things tonight. I felt so much better starting this game then the first one."
Though not perfect, Lundqvist was decidedly more sharp Tuesday than he was Saturday in Boston when he made his first start since February 2. Lundqvist was tested early and often in Winnipeg on Tuesday, making 15 first-period saves, including an alert stop on a Blake Wheeler wraparound which hit a skate in front to change direction on the way towards the net.
Lundqvist seemed to track the movement of the puck much better than he did against the Bruins and also seemed more confident and aggressive in his play. Feeling more like himself, Lundqvist even attempted to head butt a shot, but just missed as the puck whizzed by his mask in the second period--and then did take one off the mask on a direct shot midway through the third period.
"Tonight I tried to do less--less movements," explained Lundqvist. "My game is being in the right place and don't move so much. I was better with that."
The Rangers helped their goaltender out more than they did Saturday in Boston, as well, blocking 24 shots in Winnipeg. Dan Girardi, in full beast mode, blocked ten shots by himself.
"Ten?" asked a modest Girardi when told of his blocked shot total. "That's generous. Just trying to get in the way really. We're all trying to do the same thing and it just happened a bunch hit me tonight."
Twice through the first two periods the Jets scored a goal and twice the Rangers came right back to tie the game, leading to a 2-2 deadlock on the scoreboard at the start of the third period. Derick Brassard had a hand in both Rangers goals, assisting on a Mats Zuccarello first-period tally and then tying the score himself with his 17th goal midway through the second.
Jim Slater snuck a short side shot from along the goal line between Lundqvist and the goal post just 3:16 into the game to give Winnipeg an early 1-0 lead as the Jets came flying out of the starting gates, recording the game's first nine shots on goal.
However the Rangers began to turn the tide with a string of good shifts as the first period rolled along, with Zuccarello tying the game at the 9:42 mark. Zuccarello--playing with an edge and at warp speed most of the night--controlled the puck behind the goal line and then sprinted towards the net after slipping a pass along the right wing wall to Brassard. New York's centerman pass to Rick Nash, who fired a shot which was stopped by Jets goalie Ondrey Pavelec. Zuccarello cruising through the slot collected the puck and snapped it into the back of the net, tying the score 1-1.
Zuccarello now has three goals in his last five games--and 15 on the season, and he has eight points (3-5-8) in his last seven games. The assist was the 40th this season for Brassard--the first time he has reached that total in his career.
Winnipeg again jumped the Rangers at the start of the second period with former Blueshirt Lee Stempniak wiring a shot over Lundqvist's glove just 1:25 into the period. But again the Rangers slowly but surely turned things back in their favor, and evened things up at 10:13 when Brassard scored his 17th goal of the season.
Skating on the power play, the Rangers moved the puck quickly inside the Jets zone with Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh playing catch before Brassard hammered a left-wing slap shot through a Nash screen and into the back of the net--only the team's second power play goal in the past 12 games.
"In this building we know they're going to come out hard, but we knew what they're about--an extremely hard-working physical team who play well in this building all of the time--so we were lucky to come out of here with a win," said Girardi.
Vigneault shuffled his power play combinations Tuesday, with dividends coming on Brassard's goal. Brassard centered for Nash and Zuccarello on one unit with Yandle and McDonagh at the points; and the second unit had Derek Stepan with Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Dan Boyle and Girardi.
The Rangers should have had another power play opportunity late in the second period, but somehow the officials missed a vicious cross check to the back of Miller's neck delivered by Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Miller chipped the puck loose from Pavelec's pads at 17:38 and then fell to his knees before Byfuglien--with both hands on his stick--cracked Miller along the back of his neck, driving his face into the ice. After rising slowly and skating to the bench, Miller fired his stick behind the bench, then took off his helmet and was examined by the team's trainer. Fortunately he did not miss a shift.
"Violent, deliberate, could have broken his neck," Vigneault said of Byfuglien's unpenalized hit. "It was one of the most vicious cross checks I've seen all year."
Miller, of course, got his revenge late in the game when his perfect pass set up Kreider's game-winning goal.
The Rangers will look for their 26th road victory Thursday night when they return to action facing the Wild in Minnesota.