NEWARK, N.J. – Henrik Lundqvist has done more than set a couple of franchise records for the New York Rangers this week. The Swedish goalie is keeping the Blueshirts in the thick of playoff contention.
Lundqvist made 21 saves in posting his Rangers record 50th NHL shutout, and New York improved its playoff chances with a 2-0 victory over the fading New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Lundqvist’s fifth shutout of the season broke a tie with Ed Giacomin for the career mark, and it came less than a week after he set the Rangers’ record for wins, eclipsing Mike Richter (301).
“We might as well do it in one week so we don’t have to talk about it for a while,” Lundqvist said. “Just a great feeling. This game was so important, and the points were important.”
The win came just 24 hours after Lundqvist posted a 3-1 win over Columbus in a game between teams fighting for playoff positions in the Metropolitan Division. New York is in third place, four points in front of Columbus and one point behind Philadelphia. Both teams have played fewer games than the Rangers.
“We are still in a position where we are fighting for our lives,” Lundqvist said. “We have to keep pushing ourselves and have the mindset that every point could be the difference right now. It’s going to be until the end, the last game. A lot of it is going to be mental, how we push each other and approach every game as a must win.”
Lundqvist has held opponents to two goals or fewer in 16 of his last 23 games, and he is 6-2 with two shutouts in his last eight starts.
“He’s been tremendous,” defenceman Ryan McDonagh said. “He has been in this position before. He is the leader on the back end, the backbone of our team. You can see it. He is talking a lot and making great efforts on second and third pucks around the crease. We need him to continue.”
Rick Nash scored his team-leading, eighth game winning goal and Derek Stepan added an empty-net, power-play tally with 8 seconds left to give the Rangers their third straight road win.
New Jersey lost for the fourth time in five games and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
“It was a tough one,” said New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves. “We played a good game out there. It was a chess match. Just kind of a fluky goal was decisive in this game. It’s unfortunate.”
Lundqvist was good and lucky. He stopped Jaromir Jagr on a first-period breakaway and had a third-period shot in close go off the post.
He also survived a wild goal-mouth scramble, with Jagr and Travis Zajac whacking at a loose puck with 39 seconds to play after the Devils pulled Brodeur while New York was on a power play
The Rangers are nine points ahead of the Devils with 10 games left. New Jersey has a game in hand.
Nash made it 1-0 at 10:33 of the second period on a shot from the left boards that seemed to catch Brodeur off guard after Rangers forward Chris Kreider was sent flying through the crease.
Following a turnover in the Devils zone, Stepan attempted a cross-ice pass to Kreider as he cut toward the crease. The rookie was knocked off his feet and might have distracted Brodeur as he tumbled to the ice. The puck went to the side boards, and Nash fired in his 23rd goal before Brodeur could cover the bad-angle shot.
“I took a peek first and saw he wasn’t back yet,” Nash said. “With him, he’s a great goaltender so you have to shoot everything on net.”
Brodeur said he lost his bearing after bumping with Kreider.
“Even now, I don’t know where the puck went,” he said. “I ran into the guy who was trying to get the tip-in, and by the time I recovered I think the puck was in.”
Lundqvist and Brodeur have been one of the best matchups in recent years in this series and they didn’t disappoint.
Lundqvist, who had very little to do early, faced his first shot when Jagr got a breakaway after taking a pass from his end. The 41-year-old forward tried to beat Lundqvist with a move from left to right. He then reached back with his stick to tuck the puck into the left corner.
Lundqvist kept his pad on the ice and made the save. He also stopped Dainius Zubrus from between the circles midway through the period.
Brodeur’s best stops in the first period came late with a glove save on a screen shot by McDonagh and two saves on Marc Staal in the closing minutes. He was outstanding in the third period, particularly on a power play when Jagr was sent off for cross-checking.
NOTES: Rangers D John Moore missed his first game since early December because of concussion-like symptoms sustained in the game against Columbus on Friday. Raphael Diaz, acquired from Vancouver at the trade deadline, made his debut in Moore’s place. … Devils fourth-line forward Ryan Carter returned to the lineup after missing three games with an upper-body injury. Stepan has points in 11 of 13 games. … The Rangers are 14-4-1 in games in which Nash scores a goal.