NEW YORK – There will be plenty of time to debate the greatest goaltender in Rangers history. Tuesday wasn’t that night. Tuesday was a night to marvel at Henrik Lundqvist’s accomplishments.
When the puck dropped to begin the Rangers’ 3-0 win over the Hurricanes, Lundqvist passed Mike Richter for the franchise lead in regular season and postseason games played by a goalie, with 743.
Late in the first period, he made his eighth save of the game, passing Richter on the franchise’s all-time saves list. He finished the game with 19,430 career stops.
At the final buzzer, he added to his own record by earning his team-record 65th career shutout – a Rangers-best 56 of them coming in the regular season. Eddie Giacomin is second in team history with 50 shutouts, 49 of them in regular-season action.
“Every time you get compared to legends like that, it’s a good feeling,” Lundqvist said after earning his first shutout since last December. “You realize you’ve been here for a while, you’ve been lucky to be part of a lot of good teams, and they’ve been giving me a chance to play a lot of games. You see today, you have to earn your minutes but you also need management to believe in you to get that opportunity. Of course, I’m proud to be up there with those guys.”
It’s a good thing Lundqvist was on top of his game, because his teammates were not during the majority of the first period. The Rangers were outshot 8-3 in the first 20 minutes, and out-attempted 24-8. They led 2-0 after one, though, thanks to a pair of goals scored within 11 seconds.
“We’re not making a big deal about winning a lot of games right now,” Lundqvist said of the Rangers’ 11-2-2 record, tied for the best 15-game start in franchise history. “We know we have to come back here and do it again. There’s a lot of hockey ahead of us. We know we have to improve to get where we want to go.”
Jesper Fast opened the scoring at 9:21, slapping one past ineffective Cam Ward (20 saves) from the far-side circle. Eleven seconds later, Rick Nash took an excellent feed from Mats Zuccarello, went to the net, and backhanded the puck past Ward for his second of the year.
“If we had a losing record, I think it’d be a lot different,” Nash said of his season-long scoring slump. “I’m at the point in my career where, obviously I want to score and help the team win, but 11-2 means a lot more than if I had ten goals right now and we were 2-11.”
“For whatever reason, we came out and we just weren’t able to execute,” said Derek Stepan of the team’s sluggish first period. “Hank made some saves for us, and then we were able to gather ourselves and get the ball rolling a little bit.”
Those 11 seconds were all the Rangers needed. They won their sixth straight game, and have earned a point in ten consecutive games for the 16th time in franchise history.
“Our record’s pretty good, but we still have areas we’re working on, that we need to improve,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “We’re very aware of that. We’re like any team in the NHL; you have to get better as the season moves forward, and that’s where we’re going to continue to strive.”
“The play has been up and down, and there have been some breaks in between the games, some longer stretches with some days off and practices,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “I think maybe it’s good that it doesn’t feel like a six-game win streak so you don’t get complacent. You want to just keep getting better every game. We’re still trying to get that 60-minute, real good game.”
That performance didn’t come on Tuesday, when they were out-attempted 49-24 at even strength. Their 24 even-strength shot attempts were their fewest in a game since Dec. 23, 2014, when they had 23 shot attempts in a 4-2 win over the Capitals.
“Confidence is high,” Nash said. “A lot of us have been together for three-plus years, four-plus years, some guys longer. I think the confidence rolls down from your goalie. I think Hank’s one of the best goalies in the world, and it kind of flows that way. We have the best defense corps in the league, in my opinion, and from there it just rolls on to our forwards.”
“The fun part about playing with this group,” Lundqvist said, “You know we will get to where we need to be sooner or later.”
The Rangers killed off all six penalties they took, and have killed 32 of their last 34 penalties during their last 11 games.
The Rangers improved to 159-1-9 over their last 169 games when leading after two periods.
The Rangers have won 17 of their last 18 meetings against the Hurricanes, and are 27-4-3 in their last 34 games against Metropolitan Division opponents.