NEW YORK – The Rangers went from fearful to fearsome, all in the span of about 25 minutes.
Early in the second period, Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh accidentally lifted goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s mask partially off his face, exposing the goaltender’s neck to Brad Malone’s wrister. After taking nearly five minutes to get checked out by trainer Jim Ramsey, Lundqvist stayed in the game to raucous applause from the capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden.
“When I got hit, it’s extremely painful and it’s hard to breathe for a few minutes. I got very lightheaded,” Lundqvist said. “Got a little worried first minute or so but they told me just to breathe, and I slowly started to feel better. The first couple minutes, it was more for me to feel if it was going to feel better after a little while. I had some headaches the rest of the game, but that was, I guess, normal, because I couldn’t breathe for a little while.
“It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse if the helmet had come up a little bit more, and the shot was a little higher,” Lundqvist said. “I feel lucky.”
Once he started to regain his breath, he was able to remain in the game and make 31 saves as the Rangers pushed past Carolina 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
“It was just unfortunate timing by me,” McDonagh said. “I’m trying to box a guy out, my stick gets his mask up and the shot went off his throat. I was a little nervous, but knowing the guy he is I thought for sure he’d battle through like he did.”
“Everyone knows he’s a competitor and he wants to win,” said defenseman Marc Staal of the Rangers’ franchise netminder. “It’s a hard thing to do for a goalie after something like that to keep your focus and stay in it at the top of your game.”
Twenty-five minutes later, the Rangers struck twice in a hurry against the Hurricanes, scoring a pair of goals in 21 seconds as they snapped their two-game losing streak, and beat the Hurricanes for the 15th time in their last 16 meetings, the longest such streak against any opponent in Rangers franchise history.
“As the game went on, we just started throwing pucks [to the net], making them defend off the shot,” McDonagh said. “It kept us from giving up time in our zone, too.”
The Rangers came into action with just one goal in their previous two games, and three shutout losses in their last seven games. They put that to bed despite an effort that was, at times, porous against one of the worst teams in the NHL.
“First period was, they were getting a lot of ‘Grade A’ chances,” Staal said. “We were a little bit sloppy with the puck. They were creating a lot. I think our focus needs to be on the start of the game better.”
“We can analyze the game, but even though we were up after the first period they had been the better team,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “The second half of the game, we played well. We played at a fast pace, and took over in the second half and were able to carry the play into the third.”
Lundqvist improved to 15-4-0 in his last 19 games, with a 1.76 GAA and a .939 sv%. He tied Nikolai Khabibulin for 20th on the NHL’s all-time win list with 333.
The Rangers improved to 23-4-2 when scoring the game’s first goal, and are 21-0-1 this season when leading after two periods. Since Feb. 6, 2010, they’re 135-1-9 when leading after 40 minutes.