On a night that Henrik Lundqvist moved up another notch on an all time list and the Rangers faced an old friend for the first time, the goaltender’s greatest fears were never realized.
“It crossed my mind, it crossed my mind, I’m not gonna lie,” Lundqvist said after the Rangers beat the Minnesota Wild, 3-2 in overtime. Tony DeAngelo scored the winning goal with a pretty wrist shot that beat Wild goaltender Alex Stalock at :32 seconds of overtime but the night was highlighted by the return of Lundqvist’ friend and former teammate Mats Zuccarello.
When the game got to OT, the potential of Lundqvist having to face his old pal in the shootout was closer to becoming a reality. Add the fact that Zuccarello is one of the best shootout performers (50%) in the history of the gimmick that the NHL uses to decide a winner, then that one-on-one encounter would’ve stirred the emotions of not only both players but whoever was watching. “I was excited and happy that we ended it right away,” Lundqvist said, “it would’ve been a long season, long summer if he came out there and scored, changed my number probably.”
Lundqvist made 26 saves in the Rangers’ second consecutive, come from behind victory to notch his 455th career win, moving him past Curtis Joseph for sole possession of fifth place on the NHL’s All Time Wins list. “If you asked me 15 years ago, I’d say it’s a pretty surreal thing to be able to do it,” said the future Hall of Famer. “It’s a team thing for sure, they helped me get there so I appreciate all the players that I played with and the teams we had over the years to help me get to this point. It’s a cool thing and I’m proud of it.”
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead after one on a goal by Brady Skjei, whose game has elevated lately after being paired with Jacob Trouba. Minnesota tied it on only their second shot of the second period against a tired Ranger line that was on the ice at the time.
The Wild grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third period when Ryan Donato scored his second of the season, as he beat Lundqvist with a shot from the left faceoff circle. That goal would’ve buried Ranger teams of the recent past but not this one that took advantage of a break.
With Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman off for tripping, the Rangers capitalized on the man advantage as Chris Kreider cashed in a rebound to tie the game at two with less than three minutes left in the third period. Artemi Panarin, who had a multi point game with three assists, began the play by passing into the slot where Ryan Strome deflected it towards the net. Stalock made the initial save but the puck came right to Kreider, who put in the gift rebound.
In overtime, the Rangers won the faceoff and got possession of the puck and never gave it up. Strome skated into the offensive zone and dropped a pass for Panarin who passed it to DeAngelo along the left wing boards. The Ranger defenseman saw two Wild players go towards Panarin, so he took the puck into the slot where he was wide open and was able to beat Stalock on the stick side. “Two guys go to “Bread” [Panarin] there, I was actually getting ready to drop, but glad I didn’t,” DeAngelo said afterwards. “A lot of focus on number ten there, but it just good to get some open space and just finish it off.”
Coach David Quinn was pleased that DeAngelo decided to be selfish this time. “He [DeAngelo] did a great job holding on to it,” Quinn said. “If he’d passed it, I would have thrown up on the bench.”
What the Rangers have “thrown up” recently is a roster filled with young talent that has shown an understandable amount of inconsistency, but also shows signs of becoming a very good hockey team.
“You can just feel us growing as a team,” said Quinn. “If you’re gonna have success, you need togetherness. Just because you’re wearing the same jersey doesn’t mean you’re a team. One of the things we’ve done a much better job of over the last few weeks is starting to understand what it’s gonna have to take for us to have success. You can just feel we’re becoming more of a team.”
A team that is not only fun to watch, but fun to watch grow.