It wasn’t a masterpiece. But it’ll do. Henrik Lundqvist stoned the Predators in a Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win before 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena in Music City. His 31 saves and two stops in the skill competition were enough for the Rangers to win a second consecutive game on the road.
Jimmy Vesey got the last laugh against the fans who booed him and had the usual “Vesey sucks,” chants during his return to Nashville. The 23-year old American rookie makes things happen. As it turned out, he did it in the shootout on a picture perfect forehand deke beating hard luck loser Juuse Saros in Round 1. His clutch finish followed a strong denial from a patient Lundqvist on Nashville first shooter Ryan Johansen.
After Lundqvist out-waited Craig Smith to force his high shot wide, shootout ace Mats Zuccarello came out to finish off the win. The very smooth and high skilled Zuccarello went to his patented deke opening up Saros for a backhand tuck five-hole to clinch the Rangers’ 22nd victory. Combined with the Pens losing for a second straight time in overtime (2-1 to Leafs), they are now tied with Pittsburgh in points (45). But remain second due to one extra game played.
It was a rare day where the rest of the top five in the Metropolitan Division lost. The Pens picked up the only point while the Flyers had their 10-game win streak end in a 3-1 loss at Dallas. The Caps also had a six-game win streak stopped at home in a 2-1 loss to Montreal. In fact, the Canes were the only other Metro team to win also via the shootout 2-1 over Buffalo. The Devils were sent to a fifth consecutive loss in Ottawa 3-1. They should be in a foul mood for Sunday night’s MSG rematch. A week prior, the Rangers won handily 5-0.
Despite the Rangers and Predators giving a good show in Smashville, only two goals were scored in 65 minutes. In the first period, Rick Nash caught Nashville’s Saros leaning when he picked high corner short side at 7:47 for his second goal in two games since returning. His 13th which tied Michael Grabner for the team lead came from Kevin Hayes and Nick Holden.
That was all they would get on Saros, who was making just his fourth start. He was sharp finishing with 26 saves. That included stopping all dozen Ranger shots in a seesaw second that swung to the Preds. Not long after Saros denied a Kevin Klein bid, Ryan McDonagh’s pass through the middle tipped off J.T. Miller right to Mike Fisher, who didn’t waste any time. The husband of Carrie Underwood sent a seeing eye wrist shot by Lundqvist through traffic for an unassisted tally to tie the score at 9:22.
It was part of a tough night for McDonagh and partner Dan Girardi. They were stuck in their end for a majority of the contest against an aggressive Preds’ forecheck. Let’s just say they were a negative Corsi at both 5-on-5 and overall. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch. The second half of the game saw the Preds all over the Rangers swarming Lundqvist, who was a cool as a cucumber.
Since he returned, the franchise netminder has stopped 58 of 59 shots which included the first combined shutout in team history. Lundqvist has been at his best looking more like himself. He’s not moving as much and just letting the puck come to him. That’s allowed him to see the puck better and make big time saves like a nice glove stop on Johansen and a huge stick save to deny James Neal with over two minutes left in regulation after he beat a sliding Girardi.
The Preds dominated the third outshooting the Rangers 14-6. But they were unable to solve an unflappable Lundqvist, who also prevented the dangerous skating Viktor Arvidsson on a break in earlier. He was scary during shifts due to his relentless speed and skill attempting six shots with three reaching Lundqvist. Only three Nashville skaters didn’t register a shot.
Even on a night P.K. Subban (upper body) couldn’t go, the Predators played a scrappy game. But as so often happens, great goaltending wins out. They also got that out of Saros, who has been pretty good so far in his four starts allowing only six goals. That included thwarting Oscar Lindberg twice in the third.
The 3-on-3 overtime was odd. It was more tactical. The Preds held possession for the whole first half. However, they only were able to get two shots on Lundqvist with him denying Filip Forsberg from the perimeter.
Chris Kreider had the best chance to end it. Following a good Saros stop on Nash, Hayes made a great slap pass for an open Kreider down low. But he was on a tough angle despite being virtually next to the net and was checked enough to send the puck wide despite Saros being out of position.
Shootouts haven’t been kind to either team. Neither had won one this season. In this one, Lundqvist set the tone by not going for any of Johansen’s 9000 fakes. That’s what it felt like watching it. Then, Alain Vigneault showed he has a sense of humor by sending out Vesey. With the fans on him all night, Vesey coolly skated in and faked before going to a forehand deke and beating Saros upstairs to boos. It was a pretty awesome moment. He shut them up.
Lundqvist would then basically dare Smith to beat him high glove but the Nashville shooter was unable to do so missing wide. That set the stage for Zuccarello. Always dependable in such situations, he made a great move pumping before going to a backhand thru Saros’ five-hole to send excited teammates pouring off the bench to celebrate the win.
One which Lundqvist stole. Something this franchise and its fans are used to seeing from him. It’s safe to say he’s back on track. Who ever doubted him? Not the knowledgeable fans who knew he’d bounce back. So, who do you think gets the nod tonight? Do we even have to guess? 😉
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Mike Fisher, Predators (game-tying goal-9th, 2 shots, 4 attempts, +1 in 24 shifts-17:07, 9-and-6 on draws)
2nd Star-Jimmy Vesey, NYR (shootout winner in Round 1, 5 attempts, +1 in 21 shifts-13:09)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (31 saves including 14/14 in busy 3rd-58 of 59 since returning and 2-0-0)
Notes: In his return to the lineup, Matt Puempel went without a shot and one attempt in 17 shifts-10:52 including 1:56 power play. … Marek Hrivik was again noticeable throughout with two shots and two hits while going 3-for-5 on draws in 14 even strength shifts-9:25. … Klein had a good game with three shots, six attempts, two hits and three blocked shots in 17:15 (24 shifts) including 1:32 shorthanded. … Even though he finished with four shots and went 12-and-12 on faceoffs, Derek Stepan struggled with two giveaways in 20:52 (27 shifts). … Grabner only received 12:37 including 2:18 on the penalty kill. He wasn’t as visible. It’s been six games since he registered a point. … Without Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis each logged over 28 minutes for the Preds. They combined for three shots, 13 attempts and nine blocks including a game high six from Ellis. … Eight different Nashville skaters logged over 20 minutes compared to four Rangers. … Faceoffs went to the Preds 31-27 with Johansen 11-and-5. … Key Stat: Giveaways NYR 12 (3 with 2 including Stepan, Miller and Skjei) NSH 11 Saros 2.
Video Gif: What else but Vesey burning the team who drafted him in the shootout.