NEW YORK, N.Y. – Henrik Lundqvist has a long memory, and won’t soon forget the pain of falling one point short of the playoffs a year ago.
Lundqvist posted his NHL-best 10th shutout with only Brandon Dubinsky’s third-period goal as a cushion. He made it stand up in the Rangers’ 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night that gave New York its season-high fifth straight win.
The Rangers are seventh in the Eastern Conference, but instead of looking behind them, they can set their sights on the sixth-place Montreal Canadiens, who hold only a three-point edge.
New York is three points up on Buffalo and six points clear of Carolina, the team just below the post-season cutoff. Last season, the Rangers were eliminated when they lost in a shootout at Philadelphia on the final day.
“I keep reminding myself every day that last year was one point,” said Lundqvist, who made 22 saves in his 34th NHL shutout. “I don’t want to be there and I don’t think anyone else wants to be there. This is a game that could be the difference.”
Lundqvist matched his career high in shutouts and improved to 7-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average and two shutouts in eight games. No more worries about the sore neck he sustained in a home win over Montreal on Friday that almost forced him to miss Sunday’s victory at Pittsburgh.
“I feel great,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t think my body felt this great in a lot of years.”
The Rangers have won five straight for the first time since a seven-game streak in October 2009. Dubinsky made it happen 7:49 into the third period.
New York was penalty-free for the first time since Jan. 9, 2009, at Buffalo, and the Rangers did it without top defenceman Marc Staal, who missed his second straight game because of an undisclosed injury.
The Rangers had been surging on the strength of their offence that produced 17 goals in three games—including at least five in each win. They have won seven of eight, scoring 34 goals.
“This was a good test for us—a playoff-type game that you have to grind away,” Dubinsky said.
Lundqvist was hardly tested in earning his second shutout of Florida this season. His toughest stretch came in the final minute after the Panthers pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun. Lundqvist kept the puck out after being knocked down in the crease, lying on his side on the goal line.
“You have so much adrenaline, you don’t feel pain there,” Lundqvist said.
Vokoun, who shut out the Rangers in January, made 32 saves for Florida, which appears to be out of the running for a post-season berth. Florida was hurt by the absence of leading scorer Stephen Weiss, who was forced to sit out for only the second time this season because of a leg injury.
“We’re missing our leading scorer from what’s left out of this team,” Vokoun said. “If you don’t score, you can’t win. We battled hard, but this is where we are.
“We didn’t even generate enough to get us some power plays. It’s disappointing.”
The Rangers dominated in the shot totals, but failed to generate many prime scoring chances before Dubinsky cashed in. Earlier on the shift, Dubinsky fired a drive that got through Vokoun, but was cleared away before it crossed the goal-line.
New York kept the puck in the Panthers end, and Ryan Callahan took it away in the slot. He glided to the front edge of the right circle and got the puck to Dubinsky for a tap-in. Callahan thought about shooting, but Vokoun took that option away.
“We feel like we are a line that needs to produce and put up points for us to be successful,” Callahan said.
The Rangers recorded 17 shots in the second to give them 26 through 40 minutes. Brian Boyle fired a one-timer from the right circle just over four minutes into the period, but Vokoun slid across to stop it.
Florida coach Pete DeBoer used his lone timeout with 2:09 left in the second when the Panthers were being outshot 23-13. Vokoun had kept them in the game.
“He was big in the first two periods and he gave us a chance in the third,” DeBoer said. “You’re not going to win in this league unless you can score a goal. Our forwards, one through 12, didn’t bring enough to the table.”
Notes: The Panthers began their longest road trip of the season—five games—after going 3-2-2 in a season-high, seven-game homestand. … The Panthers are 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in their past six visits. … Rangers D Bryan McCabe faced the Panthers for the first time since he was traded to New York on Feb. 26. In 199 games with Florida between 2008-11, McCabe had 28 goals and 76 assists. … Panthers D Keaton Ellerby took the game’s only penalty, interference, in the first.