NEW YORK – Mats Zuccarello called it a lucky goal. His teammates called it a skill goal. Ranger fans were just happy it was a goal.
In a game that saw just one puck cross the goal line, the Rangers (25-21-3) rode Zuccarello’s third-period tally to a 1-0 win Thursday in an Original Six matchup against the Red Wings (20-17-10) at Madison Square Garden.
“All players make their good fortune by the right work ethic, the right attitude, and the right commitment,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s just found a way to make some of those skill plays and play on the inside. He’s been a very big part of our offensive game, and again tonight he found a way to get a big goal for us.”
Jimmy Howard (47 saves) had stopped the first 44 Rangers shots. But this time, with the Rangers moving well in transition as they had all game, Zuccarello tried passing the puck cross-crease to Benoit Pouliot.
Instead, it deflected off Red Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff’s stick, and the bouncing puck hopped over Howard’s pad and into the mesh, sending the sell-out crowd of 18,006 into delirium with 5:58 remaining in the third.
“Some games are going to be like that when you struggle to score,” Zuccarello said. “We had a good stretch where we scored a lot of goals, but today one was enough. We’ll take that.”
“You can’t just stop and get frustrated,” said Ryan McDonagh, who had a career-high seven shots and continues to excel with under a month remaining until he takes part in the Sochi Olympics as part of Team USA. “It’s tough to score goals against that team. They play pretty well in their structure, and they don’t give you [many] odd-man looks because they stay a lot above the puck. It was throwing pucks at the net, second and third opportunities, and we get a fortunate bounce.”
Zuccarello started the season slowly. So slowly, in fact, he was a healthy scratch on October 24 after going without a point in the team’s first seven games. The chance to sit in the press box and watch seems to have been just the elixir to his early-season struggles. Since then, he’s scored 12 goals and added 22 helpers.
“I’ve said this before, when I benched him, he wasn’t blaming me or anybody else,” Vigneault said. “He knew that he wasn’t performing and producing the way he wanted to. Ever since we got him back, he’s been producing for us.”
After Zuccarello’s goal, the Rangers still had some defending to do – and needed a little bit more luck on their way to Henrik Lundqvist’s 48th career shutout.
With under 45 seconds left, Gustav Nyquist wristed one that went off the post before deflecting off Lundqvist’s back. He looked behind him, and with the puck skittering ever so tantalizingly towards the goal line and a tie game, he reached his gloved-hand back, smothered the puck, and helped ensure the game was won.
“You wait for [the Red Wings to give] a reaction when you hear it hit the post,” Lundqvist said after his third shutout of the season moved him one away from Eddie Giacomin for the franchise record. “Then, they don’t give a reaction so you know it’s behind you somewhere and you don’t want to make too big of a move. I turned around, and it was right there. We got some puck-luck.”
“What you saw tonight was, without a doubt, two goaltenders on top of their game,” Vigneault said. “Both Hank and Howard had their “A” game out there and were seeing the puck and controlling the rebounds. We were fortunate to put one past him.”
The Rangers shut-out the Red Wings for the first time since Nov. 27, 1976, and for the first time at the Garden since Nov. 16, 1975. The last time the Rangers won a 1-0 game against Detroit was on Feb. 4, 1971.
The Rangers’ 48 shots were just shy of their season-high of 50, set earlier this month against Toronto. They’ve taken at least 40 shots eight times through their first 49 games this season, after doing so just five times in the 48-game lockout-shortened season last year.
New York is 9-3-1 in its last 13 games. They’ve allowed two goals or fewer in five straight games, seven of their last nine, and in 14 of their 25 games at Madison Square Garden this season.