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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lundqvist dominates Devils; Rangers roll to 3-1 win

By Jim Cerny,

Henrik Lundqvist turned in a phenomenal 41-save performance, leading the Rangers to an extremely important 3-1 victory over the Devils on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Lundqvist stopped the first 32 shots he faced until losing his shutout bid on a Dainius Zubrus goal with 8:49 to play in the third period. Though pelted with 20 shots in the final period, Lundqvist refused to surrender more than the one goal.

“It’s a relief to get a win and play a solid game,” said Lundqvist, who had not earned a victory since an 8-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 19. “It had been on my mind a little bit. I was working hard, but maybe too hard.”

Lundqvist and his teammates did a terrific job in holding New Jersey’s new star player, Ilya Kovalchuk, off the scoresheet; and the Blueshirts also did an excellent job of rattling Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur during a wild sequence midway through the second period, changing the entire complexion of the game.

Ryan Callahan had a goal and an assist for the Rangers, who now have 59 points on the season and are tied with Philadelphia for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

“Cally, let alone the goal and the assist, did all of the little things,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “He added some important minutes to us.”

After 27 minutes of hockey had been played, the Rangers and Devils were locked in a scoreless struggle. In fact, the Rangers had managed just seven shots on goal to that point.

But in a span of 2:39, the Rangers exploded for three goals on four shots against Brodeur, electrifying the capacity crowd at MSG.

“It was big for us to score those goals that quickly,” said Lundqvist. “It changed the game.”

After killing off a pair of power plays early in the second period -- including 17 seconds worth of a two-man disadvantage -- the Rangers received a power play of their own when Rob Niedermeyer was penalized for hooking at 6:17. The Rangers made the Devils pay when Marian Gaborik netted his 35th goal of the season shortly thereafter.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist acknowledges the cheers from The Garden Faithful after being named the game's No. 1 star on Saturday night.
Gaborik finished a pretty passing sequence that began with Michael Del Zotto slipping a feed to Callahan in the slot. As the Devils collapsed towards Callahan, he found Gaborik alone to the side of the net for an easy tap-in power play goal at the 7:20 mark of the second to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

“It gives us confidence, especially to score against a great goalie like Brodeur,” said Gaborik, who has scored six goals in the last five games. “And definitely it’s better to play with the lead.”

The Rangers struck again 56 seconds later when Callahan floated a shot past a stunned Brodeur after stealing the puck inside the Devils’ blueline. Moments before actually scoring his 15th goal, Callahan nearly banked a shot off Brodeur’s stick and into the net.

“We were cycling the puck pretty well all game, and that shift we did the same,” said Callahan. “We got a turnover in the slot, and I tried to go upstairs with it. It was a really good second period for us.”

The Garden Faithful erupted in the sing-song “Mar-ty! Mar-ty!” chants as the Devils’ goalie hunched over in his crease and hung his head following Callahan’s score.

Not finished with their quick onslaught, the Rangers upped their lead to 3-0 at 9:59 as Chris Drury scored his ninth goal of the season. Rangers’ newcomer Brandon Prust led the rush into the Devils’ zone on left wing, and made a neat drop pass to Matt Gilroy. The rookie defenseman found Drury in the middle, and the Rangers’ captain snapped a shot past Brodeur, their third goal on four shots against the future Hall of Famer.

Prust earned his first point as a Ranger on the play on a night that he quickly became indoctrinated into the Rangers-Devils rivalry. The pugnacious Prust dropped the gloves twice in the first period with New Jersey’s hulking Andrew Peters, who stands five inches taller and weighs 45 pounds more than the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Prust. The assist on Drury’s goal was like the cherry on top of the sundae for the 25-year-old forward.

The beneficiary of the three quick goals was Lundqvist, who was absolutely sensational in goal for the Rangers. One game after allowing six goals in a 6-5 loss to the Washington Capitals, Lundqvist was sharp and focused right from the first drop of the puck on Saturday.

“Henrik was great today,” said Gaborik. “He was the difference.”

Particularly impressive were the saves Lundqvist made with his gloved hand through the contest. Clearly the Devils game plan was to challenge Lundqvist’s glove because they repeatedly tried to bet him to that side.

Time and again Lundqvist made not just solid, but extraordinary, glove saves against the Devils. It all began with a quick glove that snatched Kovalchuk’s wide-open redirection just 1:33 into the contest. It continued in the first period with a snatch of Vladimir Zharkov’s quick wrist shot at the 15-minute mark, and culminated with an incredibly important glove save to deny Rob Niedermeyer off a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with one minute to go in the opening period.

Lundqvist continued his stellar play in the second, beginning the period by dropping into the slits and throwing up his glove to thwart Jamie Langenbrunner’s power play blast at 2:30. And perhaps his most spectacular save came at 9:23 of the second when Patrick Elias had raised his stick in celebration, but had to put it back down when he realized that Lundqvist, on his knees, had robbed him with the glove.

Chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!” filled The Garden all night long, and rose to a thunderous level 7:05 into the third when he burst across the crease from right-to-left and stoned a wide-open Mike Mottau with, what else, his gloved hand.

His performance in the third period was just plain sensational as the Devils pressed hard, looking for a late rally similar to the one they had in a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs only 24 hours prior to this contest.

“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever seen,” Tortorella said of Lundqvist. “It was a big game for him, and had to be big for his self-confidence.”

The Rangers now get a brief respite from the hectic schedule. They do not play again until Wednesday night when they will host the Nashville Predators at MSG.

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