Having to take part while skating on a bad hip is really low on his list of favourite activities. But the New York Rangers captain ripped a shot past Carolina backup John Grahame to clinch a 2-1 win over the Hurricanes on Sunday.
“Too bad we didn’t win in regulation,” Jagr said. “I am just happy we won. I would be happy if it was over before I go.”
Jagr has shootout goals in two of his last three tries after an 0-for-4 start this season. He was criticized last month for opting out of the tiebreaker in a home loss to New Jersey.
The win, New York’s fourth in five games, moved the Rangers into a tie with Carolina for eighth in the Eastern Conference – the cutoff for the playoffs. The Rangers bounced back from losing a key point on Saturday when they couldn’t protect a 2-0 lead in the third period at Pittsburgh and were beaten 3-2 in overtime.
“It is a playoff game for us,” Jagr said. “No one gives us credit that we are going to make the playoffs. We knew it was huge. We knew it was going to be a big weekend.”
The Rangers went 3-0-1 during the week against teams ahead of them in the standings. They have 13 games remaining – one more than Carolina – and own a tiebreaker over the Hurricanes after going 3-1 in the season series.
“Two points was everything today,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said.
Jagr set up Marek Malik’s first goal in 75 games and Matt Cullen scored his second consecutive shootout-deciding goal for the Rangers.
Henrik Lundqvist did the rest, turning aside Justin Williams and Ray Whitney in the shootout after making 30 traditional saves.
“Obviously you come here to get two points,” said Hurricanes starting goalie Cam Ward, who left in the second period after being cut on the leg. “But any point at this stage of the season is huge. You deal with it and move forward.”
The Rangers earned a point for the seventh straight game (5-0-2) and played overtime for the sixth time in nine contests. Carolina pressed for the winner after Michael Nylander was called for high-sticking with 1:35 left in overtime, but Lundqvist held his ground.
Lundqvist, who owns the NHL’s lowest goals-against average since the all-star break, also did the splits to deny Cory Stillman in front during the third.
“I was really tired after overtime,” said Lundqvist, who has played in 32 of 33 games and isn’t due for another rest anytime soon. “I told Tom to let us shoot first so I could get a little extra time to recover and focus.”
Malik, routinely booed at Madison Square Garden, briefly won over the home rooters when he scored his first goal since Feb. 6, 2006. Malik, who has 30 NHL goals in 594 games, fired a shot from the high slot that was blocked by Ward.
Malik got to the rebound, kicked the puck to his stick, and backhanded a shot inside the right post to make it 1-0 at 9:13 of the first period.
Jagr, questionable after sitting out the third period and overtime Saturday, has 11 assists in 16 games. He took only one shift in the second half of the middle period – and five overall in the frame on Sunday – to rest.
The Hurricanes tied it on Williams’ career-high 33rd goal, scored 10:04 into the second.
Grahame had a bit of an adventure shortly after Ward was forced from the game with 8:37 left in the second.
Grahame skated to his right to play the puck, negating an icing call. He swept the puck to the boards, but Jed Ortmeyer was there and sent a shot back toward the vacated net. Grahame dived across with his stick extended as the puck hit the right post and then caromed off the crossbar.
A video review determined that the puck never crossed the line.
Grahame was sharper in the third period when the Rangers had three power-play chances and heard pleas from the crowd to, “Shoot the Puck!”
New York went 0-for-5 with the advantage Saturday against Pittsburgh, including one power play when they made 25 passes without putting the puck on net. The Rangers were 0-for-5 again with only seven shots.
Grahame finished with 13 saves but stopped only Nylander in the shootout.
Notes: Jagr, who has 896 NHL assists, is five behind former Rangers coach Bryan Trottier on the career list. … Williams topped last season’s goal total Friday when he scored No. 32 against Washington. … Ward appeared to be cut by the skate of Rangers forward Brad Isbister. The MVP of last year’s playoffs took stitches on the knee after stopping 12 of 13 shots, but said the injury isn’t serious.