NEW YORK – Henrik Lundqvist was going strong. Eight consecutive shooters had been stopped by the star Rangers netminder as Tampa Bay (20-10-5) battled the Rangers through one of the longest shootouts in league history.
But then Ryan Malone sent the puck off the crossbar, and back down onto the ice, where it went just past the goal line. After a delayed reaction by Malone and the Lightning bench, they finally started celebrating their win; delayed by a Derek Stepan equalizer with 8:42 left in the third period, and an 11-round shootout that was the sixth longest in NHL history.
“I just want to win [the shootout],” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped eight of the 11 shootout attempts after saving 21 shots in regulation and overtime. “It’s fun when you stop them, but it’s definitely not fun when you let them in. Very frustrating today; you play a big part as a goalie. When you lose, you take it personally.”
“Those shootouts, it’s exciting when you win them and it’s a downer when you lose them,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, who’s not a fan of the skills competition. “I was just talking to the coaching staff, you cannot get down. You can’t judge your team on that. We have to coach them on how they played, and I thought we played our ass off.”
Lundqvist had a rough start to the shootout, allowing the first two Lightning shooters,Victor Hedman and Adam Hall, to beat him. Lundqvist ran the gauntlet after that. Steven Stamkos, Pavel Kubina, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis were all among the shooters Lundqvist turned aside before Malone’s heroics.
“The difference between winning and losing in the shootout is very small,” Lundqvist said. “I was trying to stay focused, and I was hoping for a third goal from us. We had some nice moves in the first three rounds. After I let in the first two, I knew it was going to be tough for us.”
Despite turnovers to Martin St. Louis twice in the first period that allowed the Lightning two goals in the opening twenty, the Rangers (20-14-2) battled throughout to force the tie.
“We played exactly the way we wanted to,” said 20-year-old rookie Derek Stepan, who scored his 10th goal of the season to tie the game halfway through the third period. “A couple breakdowns ended up in the back of the net. Makes it a tough game. We grinded a point out, we’d like to have two, sometimes that’s just the way it is.”
“I like the hockey team. It’s a team that continues to play, continues to grind,” said Tortorella. “We have to work our ass off to get a goal. I have a lot of respect for the guys because they don’t get frustrated.”
“We were the better team the whole game,” Lundqvist said. “We were still down one goal going into the third, you have to see it as a good thing that we tied the game and never quit. That’s a positive thing.”
Zuccarello’s debut a success, but he won’t stay with Rangers… for now
John Tortorella congratulated Mats Zuccarello after the game. He told the 23-year-old “Norwegian Hobbit” what a great game he played.
Then he told the diminutive Zuccarello to go back to Connecticut (AHL). Tortorella said he wants Zuccarello to play on Sunday with the Whale. When asked where Zuccarello would be on Monday when the Rangers face the Islanders, Tortorella said he didn’t know.
“He made some plays that I didn’t think he’d be able to make at certain times,” Tortorella said. “You can see the creativity, you can see his skill. It’s something this team needs.”
“My greatest night of my life, playing my first game, so I’m pretty happy,” Zuccarello said after the game in the Rangers locker room. “Too bad we didn’t get the two points, that’s the only disappointment.”
Zuccarello, who played 17:52, took two shots and delivered a pair of hits in the game. He also scored in the third round of the shootout on a pretty deke move, sliding the puck by Tampa goaltender Dan Ellis.
“If he didn’t score, I know you guys would be second guessing my ass off, but there was no question I was going to use him in that shootout,” Tortorella said of his decision-making.
The speedster also had a cluster of family members who made the trip to New York for the Christmas holiday. Originally, Zuccarello was going to sit in the stands with his family. Instead, they got to experience his NHL debut. There was a Norwegian flag flying in the stands as the Rangers warmed up before the game.
“I try to temper myself because you never know as you go through a long term of it all, but give the kid high marks. He stood right in there,” Tortorella said. “I was not going to hide him. We filled him in on our foundation, on how to play, but we wanted him to be creative, and let his game go.”
“I’ll probably go through this game 100 times. The guys around the locker room helped me a lot, talked to me a lot,” Zuccarello said. “It means a lot. Like I said, just a nice feeling right now.”