Game 23: Lundqvist outduels Howard in epic showdown, Zuccarello wins it in overtime


King of His Domain: Henrik Lundqvist was on fire stopping 40 of 41 shots to outduel Jimmy Howard in a thrilling Rangers 2-1 overtime win over the Red Wings. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy USA Today. 

These days, low scoring games are a rarity. With scoring up, you don’t get many well played old fashioned goalie duels. Jimmy Howard and Henrik Lundqvist gave a great show with the King’s 40 saves and Mats Zuccarello’s overtime goal giving the Rangers a exciting 2-1 win over the Red Wings. It was their seventh consecutive home win and put them up to a season high three games over .500 (12-9-2).

It wasn’t the first time these two netminders put on a clinic in unbelievable saves. Howard always saves his best for the Rangers. He idolized Mike Richter, which explains why he wears number 35 for the Winged Wheel. It’s nice to see him reestablish himself as a number one without Detroit. Lundqvist has been the backbone of the Blueshirts since he entered the league in ‘05-06. When he smiles and laughs after a win, you know it’s a good night.

There’s been a lot more to be happy about. For the popular 35-year old franchise goaltender, he’s posted a miniscule 1.02 GAA with a ridiculous .971 save percentage. That kind of brilliant play has the Rangers on a good stretch. They’ve won three in a row and nine of the last eleven to roll back into the Metro Division race. Up to 26 points, they’ve had to keep pace with the teams ahead of them. The Blue Jackets, Devils, Islanders and Capitals all won. Columbus has 31 points with the Devils at 30 while the Islanders are up to 28 and the Caps at 27. The Rangers passed the Penguins, who lost again in regulation.

Every win and point earned right now is huge. Even if it wasnt perfect by any stretch, the Blueshirts are glad their goalie is red hot. Without him, they’d be toast.

Playing for the second time without Ryan McDonagh, they got themselves in trouble due to a couple of Brendan Smith minor penalties. The Red Wings may not have scored but got a lot of momentum off it. They forced the Rangers into neutral zone turnovers. Five on five was dominated by Detroit in the first period. By far the superior team, they outshot the Rangers 17-6.

If not for some super stops by Lundqvist, it could’ve been 2 or 3-nothing. He made some gigantic ones to deny point blank chances including a breakaway on Dylan Larkin and a glove save on Gustav Nyqvist. He also got a piece of a tough Mike Green shot that was redirected with the puck going just off the outside of the post.

Howard only saw six shots but denied Pavel Buchnevich twice. He was just getting warmed up. The second stanza was a complete role reversal. It was a much sharper Blueshirts who turned up the heat with a better sustained forecheck. The Detroit backstop made half a dozen jaw dropping saves that had the Garden murmuring.

He robbed Kevin Shattenkirk with a great slide across on a one-time try from point blank range. There were other stops that made you wonder if they would ever get one past him. Howard was in Richter beast mode much as he’s been when playing the Rangers throughout his career. He had players shaking their heads.

A great leg save thwarted Rick Nash off a superb Kevin Hayes centering pass on the doorstep. He also denied Jimmy Vesey, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad in tight.

Nothing was getting by the goalies. You had Lundqvist locked in. In a period Howard stood on his head making 16 saves, Lundqvist still came up with 10 himself to send a exciting scoreless game to the third without any scoring.

It was the Red Wings who broke through first. Following a ill advised Michael Grabner tripping minor in the offensive zone, they went to work on the power play. It took a while but following some more Lundqvist acrobatics, Niklas Kronwall threaded the needle across to Tomas Tatar for a quick one-timer past Lundqvist to the glove side upstairs just before the power play expired. Henrik Zetterberg set the whole thing up with a keep in following a Marc Staal clear attempt that didn’t quite make it out due to back pressure from Justin Abdelkader. The point was Zetterberg’s 918th tying him with former teammate Pavel Datsyuk. How I miss him. Zetterberg is now seventh among active players for most points. The guys ahead of him include Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Marian Hossa, Patrick Marleau, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

But the Rangers replied back 6:12 later on a gritty goal by Kreider in front. Off a broken play in which Buchnevich had his shot deflected, it came right to Kreider at the side. He was able to throw a quick backhand off Howard’s five-hole banking the puck in for his third in two games. After going five without one, Kreider has sprung to life. He celebrated by jumping deliberately into the boards. He’s always been streaky. Maybe he can keep going. Skjei drew the secondary assist.

Neither team sat back. Detroit applied pressure by firing 14 more shots on Lundqvist. But he wasn’t budging. He’s been on a roll at five on five. Not much is getting by him these days. Over the last four games, he’s stopped 132 of 136 shots. Even his best friend the goalpost had his back on a Green attempt. The Rangers also hit one against Howard.

It was fitting that such a great duel needed overtime. They’ve gone there before with Lundqvist prevailing last year on a J.T. Miller goal. He was good tonight centering Zuccarello and Grabner. He seems to be gaining confidence. Alain Vigneault has to be pleased with Miller’s progress since moving him over to center the third line.

It was a defensive play by Miller following a close call that led to the winner. With Green driving hard to the net for a backhand stuff attempt, an aggressive Lundqvist challenged him. He made the save but lost his goalstick. How many times has that happened recently? He’s definitely become more adventurous. With Lundqvist scrambling back into position, Detroit had a shot blocked in front.

Then Miller was able to get the puck to Skjei to escape trouble. Skjei then turned on the jets and made a great play. He skated down low and drew two Red Wings. That left Zuccarello all alone in front. Skjei was able to get the pass there for the patient Zuccarello, who had all night to decide what he’d do. He chose wisely firing a laser upstairs for the OT winner at 37 seconds.

It was a great conclusion to a heck of a game. One that Lundqvist sure deserved. He was the game’s first star with Howard second and Zuccarello third. Exactly the right order. Now, they get a day off to prepare for the Canucks on Sunday. Well earned.

Notes: The Rangers were down a skater with a injury to Boo Nieves limiting them to 11 forwards and 6 D. The Red Wings also lost a player with Trevor Daley holding his arm following a shot block. Nieves only played 3:10 while Daley logged 4:16 before exiting. Vigneault said Nieves suffered a hip pointer. He doesn’t expect him to miss much time. Does that mean David Desharnais Sunday? … Howard made 29 saves in a losing effort. The Rangers won the faceoff battle 42-35. They got great efforts from Zibanejad (14-and-15), Miller (12-and-10) and Hayes (13-and-7). Larkin was the Red Wings’ best going 9-For-15. He also was stopped by Lundqvist on a power play where he drove to the net and crashed into him getting a goaltender interference minor. … Shots were 41-31 Detroit with shot attempts 76-65 Red Wings. Key Stats: Missed Shots Detroit 20 Rangers 11. Giveaways Rangers 19 (4 with 2) Red Wings 15 (Green 3). … Red Wings blocked 23 shots paced by Luke Glendening (4). The Rangers blocked 15 led by Steven Kampfer (5). … Skjei registered two assists with four shots in 10 attempts going plus-two in 33 big shifts-22:16.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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