When the Rangers needed him the most, Henrik Lundqvist came through with flying colors. “The King” made 22 saves in earning his league leading 10th shutout as the Rangers blanked the visiting Florida Panthers 1-0 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. Brandon Dubinsky scored the game’s only goal midway through the third period.
The Rangers were expecting a tough battle from the Panthers and they got one. Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun made 32 saves and kept his team in the game when the Rangers came out skating hard in both of the first two periods. Despite their frustrations, the Rangers just kept working.
“We knew we had to grind one out tonight,” Dubinsky admitted. “We would obviously liked to bury some chances and take some pressure off ourselves, but this was a good test for us–a playoff type game that you have to grind away at.”
The game’s only goal came at the 7:49 mark of the third period. Ryan Callahan got control of the puck in the Florida zone, moved to the right circle and made a cross ice feed to Dubinsky who was open to tap the puck into the open side of the goal.
“When I first got the puck I looked at Vokoun right away and he was pretty square with me so I saw Dubi coming down the slot and I tried to buy as much time as possible without totally giving away I was passing it to him,” Callahan explained.
It was the only goal that Lundqvist would need.
“It’s going to come down to low scoring games so you have to be sharp,” Lundqvist said. “We didn’t get frustrated. It’s easy to get frustrated in a game like this. They key is being mentally sharp.”
The Rangers were mentally sharp and played a disciplined game. In fact, they were not called for any penalties throughout the contest. The Panthers were only called for one, an interference call on defensema Keaton Ellerby less than five minutes into the first period.
But the hard work and disciplined play wouldn’t have been enough for the win without Lundqvist’s stellar performance.
“To a man in the room, we all know he is the most important guy for us to win games,” Callahan said. “He is having a Vezina-type year.”
The win was the fifth straight for the Rangers who are now in seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, six points ahead of ninth place Carolina. The Hurricanes have one game in hand. With their winning streak, the Rangers are now just three points behind sixth place Montreal.
Blueshirts Coach John Tortorella was pleased with his team’s performance.
“I thought it was very important to win a game like this at this time of year,” he said. “Right from the start, our start was good. Vokoun was solid, so it was going to be one of those games. Hank made some key saves at times, but we really defended well.”
The Rangers return to action Thursday night when they host the Ottawa Senators.
Defenseman Marc Staal sat out again due to an undisclosed injury. Steve Eminger filled in for him opposite Dan Girardi.
The five-game winning streak is the longest of the season for the Rangers.