Rangers center Derek Stepan has played seven years with Henrik Lundqvist so he knows what to expect from his teammate. “A top notch performance”, said Stepan, “when he [Lundqvist] gets back”.
“When” is a very good question.
Oh, did I mention there is absolutely no goaltender controversy at Madison Square Garden, but following last night’s 5-0 whitewashing of the Devils, behind Antti Raanta’s 19 saves, coach Alain Vigneault has a little bit of a “pleasant dilemma”.
Does Vigneault continue to ride the hot hand of Raanta or does he go back to ol’ reliable Lundqvist for Tuesday night’s “rematch” against Chicago?
Raanta, who was spectacular in Chicago last Thursday night, got off to a slow start, but he came up with some clutch saves to keep New Jersey off the scoreboard for his second consecutive shutout and third straight win. Raanta extended his shutout streak to a career high 151:04 and is now 8-1-0 on the season.
“I just try to go one game at a time”, Raanta said when asked about his play of late. “Try to focus on the next shot, next save and go from there”.
Adam Henrique appeared to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead just 1:09 into the first period but it was ruled that the Devils center kicked the puck into the net and the goal was disallowed.
The Rangers took the cue and the lead on Chris Kreider’s 8th goal of the season at 16:43 of the first period.
J.T. Miller scored shorthanded and Brady Skjei added his first NHL goal at 19:57 of the second to make it a 3-0 lead. In the third, Brandon Pirri scored on the power play and Jimmy Vesey, who played a solid game, completed the scoring with a power play goal, his 10th.
Raanta has given up one goal during the Rangers three game winning streak.
Alain Vigneault has stressed that Lundqvist is still the number one goaltender but the former Vezina Trophy winner has been off his game so you can’t blame the head coach for sticking with Raanta for awhile.
“Like I’ve said many times, he does what a goaltender is supposed to do and give you a chance to win”, said Vigneault, “he made that timely save at the beginning of the second period that I thought was a difference maker in this game”.
Vigneault could’ve been referring to one of two saves that Raanta made in the second.
The first was when the Rangers goalie stopped Devils LW Vernon Fiddler on a two on one. A few minutes later, Raanta made a nifty glove save on Kyle Palmieri’s shot from the left faceoff circle with New Jersey on the power play. That prompted the crowd to chant “Raan-ta..Raan-ta”.
The fans appreciate what they’re getting from Raanta but they realize that the team will need Lundqvist to be at his best if they expect to make a run in the spring.
The Rangers are fortunate to have two reliable goaltenders.
Stepan said, “the way the league is going right not you gotta have two goaltenders that play at a high level”.
The ever classy Lundqvist has always been “team first” so it comes as no surprise that Raanta acknowledged that he’s gotten tremendous support from his net minding mate.
“We’re always there for each other”, Raanta said, “he’s a class act”.