Brendan Smith shares a smile with winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant making 45 saves for a Rangers 4-2 win over the Hurricanes. AP Photo by Gregg Forwerck via Getty Images
This was a throwback performance. A blast from the past. Henrik Lundqvist reminded even the harshest skeptics that he can still steal a game. He was remarkable really in stopping all 22 shots during a lopsided first period against a good team. The end result was a 45 save night that sparked the Rangers past the Hurricanes 4-2 in Raleigh.
Making his second consecutive start following a strong game against the Red Wings, Lundqvist rewarded David Quinn with the kind of goaltending we saw during his peak. He was in a zone all night. Never more so than the first which saw Carolina attack at from all angles. Boosted by two power plays, they turned the Rangers end into a shooting gallery. However, despite a wide edge in play that included a 22-6 advantage in shots and a ridiculous attempts margin of like 30-8, they couldn’t beat Lundqvist.
As usually happens when a team is dominating play and runs into a hot goalie, it’s the opponent that scores. Give Joe Micheletti credit for calling it. After a barrage of miraculous stops from a locked in Lundqvist, Ryan Strome found Artemiy Panarin open in the slot for his eighth to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Jesper Fast’s hustle behind the net set the play up. Strome was able to center for Panarin, who was left unchecked by Dougie Hamilton for the all important first goal.
Speaking of Panarin, I want to single him out. He signed a huge deal with the Rangers worth an average cap hit of $11.6 million. The recently turned 28-year old Russian scoring forward has been brilliant so far. With a goal and assist, he extended his point streak to seven. Over that span, the Bread Man has lived up to his name by pumping in four goals and six helpers for 10 points. He hasn’t missed a beat without Mika Zibanejad. They’d already been split up at five-on-five.
Now, Panarin has formed good chemistry with Strome, who’s proving capable of filling the void. His primary assist gave him a dozen points (5-7-12) in the last nine games. He’s exactly a point-per-game with 14 in 14 games. Given how well they’ve played together along with complement Fast, why break them up? That’s a question better asked for Quinn whenever Zibanejad returns. The Rangers don’t play again until Sunday afternoon against the Panthers.
If you want to pay homage to how well Lundqvist played, you also have to say that Quinn made some good changes for tonight. In finally sitting out defenseman Brady Skjei, who’s not been up to speed, he has again proven that it doesn’t matter what your salary is. If you aren’t going, you will sit. I wonder if Skjei will ever get it. By that, I mean become the player management thinks he can be. They invested $5.3 million AAV. I would expect him to be back on Sunday. But if he is, who comes out?
By reinserting rookie Ryan Lindgren, who worked with Adam Fox on the third pair, Quinn had Marc Staal with Tony DeAngelo while Libor Hajek remained alongside Jacob Trouba. It would be completely honest to admit the defense struggled mightily. You cannot get outshot like they did and expect to win consistently. After being outshot 22-6 in the first, they picked it up and competed harder. The Rangers were outshot 25-13 the rest of the way. For the game, they were out-attempted 90-38.
So, before we get too excited over a second win in a row, let’s keep it in perspective. This cannot be a repeat against the equally dangerous Panthers this weekend. A team that can explode due to their elite talent. However, as evidenced in a 5-4 overtime loss to Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, defense is still an issue under veteran coach Joel Quenneville. Florida will be on the heels of a back-to-back due to visiting the Islanders on Saturday. That should be interesting.
For so long, Quinn has continued to shuffle his lines. However, he seems to have settled on some combos that are gelling. Not only the Panarin, Strome, Fast line. But there is a lot of chemistry between Filip Chytil and Pavel Buchnevich, who had a second straight good game by notching his third goal and adding a helper. That gives him four points in two games. He set up Chris Kreider the night before. I really like what I see from that trio. They definitely are bringing the speed and forecheck. Keep them together.
That also goes for the suddenly effective third line of Brett Howden, Brendan Lemieux and improving rookie Kaapo Kakko. For all the gripes over Kakko staying on the third line, he’s excelled there by improving his forecheck to create offense. He’s also getting better defensively. Kakko is competing harder by using his size and strength. He’s been throwing the weight around too. That’s what you want to see. Even though he didn’t hit the score sheet, he was very good throughout. In 13:53, Kakko led the team in shots (4) while drawing a minor penalty on Brett Pesce, and helping to create an empty net goal for Fox that sealed the victory.
What happens when Zibanejad is ready? I would seriously think about having Kakko and suddenly effective deterrent Lemieux move up to play on that line. That way the other two lines stay intact. Lemieux seems to make things happen. He creates space and is a distraction. He had a very strong game drawing a penalty and finally getting rewarded for his hard work with a power play goal on a nice redirection of a Tony DeAngelo shot that made it 2-1 at 18:04 of the second period.
That was a great response to Hamilton tying the game by going to the front and deflecting in a point shot from D partner Jaccob Slavin 3:32 earlier. Hamilton has seven goals and plays like more of a forward than defenseman. He is very good offensively. A perfect fit in coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system.
The crazy aspect is that for all the point blank chances they got that a quick Lundqvist shutdown, it took a subtle play for the Canes to get on the board. The Blueshirts had the hot goalie. That was enough to in Lemieux’s words to MSG’s Dave Maloney between periods, “Steal it.”
Aside from an outstanding individual effort from Buchnevich in which he finished a check to steal the puck and then took it hard to the net for a backhand and in with Chytil in front of Petr Mrazek at 1:15, the Rangers relied on better attention to detail to earn the win. They’re now 5-4-1 versus teams over .500. They’ve also beaten Winnipeg, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Nashville. They’re only 2-2-0 against losing teams.
For a while, it looked like the 3-1 lead would hold. However, a fluke goal from Carolina captain Sebastian Aho that went off a Ranger got past Lundqvist to cut the deficit to one with 4:02.
They never panicked. Some good forecheck shifts allowed them to kill time. After Mrazek was pulled with over two minutes remaining, the Rangers were smart defensively. Particularly after clearing their end. They were tough in the neutral zone and used good team speed to force turnovers. Both an active Kakko and Panarin applied pressure until the puck was coughed up.
Fox ended matters with his second against the team he was acquired from with 1:25 left. He gets better all the time. So does DeAngelo. Those have been the best defensemen.
This was a good win. We’ll see if they can make it three and get that “winning streak.”
Battle Of Hudson 3 🌟:
3rd 🌟 Artemiy Panarin, Rangers (team-leading 8th plus 🍎, +1 in 18:11, leading scorer with 8-8-16 in 14 GP)
2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (3rd of season plus 🍎, +1 in 17:20, 1-3-4 over last 2 GP)
1st 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (45 saves including 22 of 22 in a chaotic 1st, the best game he’s played in two years)