ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, in his first action since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Devils, was back in New Jersey Saturday night, but much farther south, in a charity game similar to an All-Star exhibition.
And the Vezina Trophy winner was outstanding, stopping 56 of 62 shots in a 10-6 win at Boardwalk Hall before 10,792 hockey-starved fans, including a busload from Rockaway who lost their homes. Others paid up to $100 to watch Operation Hat Trick, a benefit to raise money for superstorm Sandy relief.
"You'd think he'd have had a little rust in him," said Flyers forward Scott Hartnell, an event organizer along with the Rangers' Brad Richards. "He was in playoff shape. We were talking in the locker room after the first [period], how the Rangers will want to play really bad now because he's on fire."
In warm-ups, Lundqvist was greeted with an MSG-style "Hen-reek, Hen-reek" cheer, with a few boos, given the large contingent of Flyers fans. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, in enemy territory, was roundly booed. And there was abuse for commissioner Gary Bettman.
"As soon as Lundqvist was announced as playing, my wife said we could get tickets," said Brian Attard of Hammonton, N.J., who was wearing a Rangers away jersey. "Best in the world."
The first period was eerily similar to a Rangers game, as Lundqvist, one of nine Blueshirts on Team Richards, stopped all 23 shots, including Simon Gagne's breakaway. Sarcastic cheers wafted down for Brodeur, whose team trailed 4-0 when he blocked an easy shot with 3:53 left for his sixth save.
Penguins forward James Neal scored four goals and Long Island native and Toronto Maple Leaf Mike Komisarek had a goal.
Gagne finally broke Lundqvist's shutout on the 26th shot at 2:04 of the second period, and Wayne Simmonds and James Van Riemsdyk cut the lead to 4-3 by the seven-minute mark. Lundqvist stopped Tampa's Steven Stamkos on a penalty shot with 10:37 left. Neal's third goal upped the lead to 5-3 and Gagne's second with 5:11 left made it 5-4. They never got closer.
"You didn't have a clue where you were," at the start, said Lundqvist, who had been practicing for the past month in Sweden with one shooter. "Mentally it's been terrible, but technically, it's probably been pretty good. I want to play real games, but it's probably the best feeling I've had in a long time."NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, in town to answer players' questions, said no new talks were scheduled. Otherwise, for one night, the 70th of the lockout, the labor talks took a back seat.
Fehr briefly lifted the mood when asked if he would hit the slots. "Me and the slots?" he asked. "Maybe I'd have better luck there than at the bargaining table."