NEW YORK – Call him Henrik, King, Henke, or any variation of the above. But you should absolutely call him the King of the Hudson River rivalry.
Once again, Henrik Lundqvist shut the door on the slumping Devils (2-6-1) as the Rangers (4-2-1) took the first of six matchups between these two teams by a 3-1 final at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
“These are big games for us; divisional games,” said Ryan Callahan, who’s first goal of the season was tonight’s game-winner. “Every time we play the Devils everybody gets jacked up for them, Hank included. You see it, he’s big for us all the time, but it seems when we play the Devils he kicks it up another notch. You saw in the third period, he was the main reason why we won that game.”
Henrik deflected the praise from his feet to his teammates’. For the third straight game, all 18 Rangers skaters played with tremendous energy. It’s no coincidence the team has won all three of those games.
“It goes hand-in-hand with how we play as a team,” Lundqvist said. “Last three games, we’ve played better. We’re more in control. When the team is more in control, it’s a lot easier to play in net. “
Coming into tonight’s contest, Lundqvist had been forced to stop over 30 shots in four of his five starts this season. But a mixture of strong Rangers defense and struggling New Jersey offense allowed him a slight reprieve – only 28 shots found their way to the Rangers netminder.
“You know going into the game it’s going to be an intense game,” Lundqvist said of facing the Devils. “They always play hard. Coming from a couple up-and-down games for them, you knew they’d come hard. We talked about matching their effort. The first period really set the tone for us.”
Lundqvist has a career goals against average of 1.89 against the Devils, and in 31 career regular season games against New Jersey is 19-7-5.
Hard-working Rangers, for a change
These last three games – at Toronto on Thursday, at Boston on Saturday, and Sunday evening against the Devils – have seen a Rangers team that has given a different work ethic. Between their defense in the neutral zone, their physicality, and the desire to do the “little things,” it’s almost been a revolutionary change from many games they played last season.
“I think we’re trying to start to build an identity through this team, and that doesn’t come with one game or one weekend,” Callahan said. “That comes with a full season.”
“The last couple games we’ve played simple and worked really hard,” Lundqvist said. “You can talk and talk about how you want to play, but it all starts with the work ethic. It’s really been there for us.”
One statistic that is indicative of a hard-working team is the blocked shot. Thursday, New York blocked 30 Toronto attempts. Saturday, the Rangers blocked 15 shots. Tonight, New Jersey had 21 attempts turned away by the Rangers not named Lundqvist, including a team-high four by Callahan and Dan Girardi.
“Guys have been working really hard and it’s paying off,” said an appreciative Lundqvist. “We’re finishing check s a little bit more, guys are skating a little harder, a lot of blocked shots. We’re really paying the price the last couple of games.
“I think some guys have really brought their work habits to a different level,” Tortorella said. “We always talk about – what is the definition of hard work. We’re trying to define that. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
“We talk all the time about how important every point is. It doesn’t matter if it’s October or April,” Dubinsky said in the happy post-game Rangers locker room. “Especially with the key guys out, getting as many points as we can and playing well as a team is very important. Right now, we’re doing that.”
Ilya Kovalchuk played for the Devils one night after being a healthy scratch for John MacLean’s team. He played 22:41, took a team-high five shots, and scored a goal in the third period to bring New Jersey to within 2-1. Neither he nor MacLean elaborated on the reasons for last night’s benching during separate pre-game media briefings.
Dubinsky’s goal was an empty netter with exactly one second left in the third period. He leads the team with four goals.