WINNIPEG, Manitoba - In a gritty effort led by Henrik Lundqvist's 32 saves in his second game in two months, the Rangers put the brakes on a two-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 3-2 victory over the Jets.
With the score tied at 2 and the Jets, battling desperately for points, on the playoff bubble and threatening on almost every shift in the third period, J.T. Miller head-manned a pass to Chris Kreider up the middle. Kreider sped by Dustin Byfuglien, went straight to the net, slid the puck by Ondrej Pavelec and crashed into the cage, where he celebrated the eventual game-winner with only 3:46 to play.
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The taut third period was a credit to the willingness of the Rangers to match the desperation of the Jets, who had 34 shots on Lundqvist. The Rangers blocked 24 (Dan Girardi had 10).
"I thought we did a good job of playing a road game against a team desperate to get into the playoffs," Derek Stepan said. "We did a good job of weathering the storm, and the key to weathering the storm is your goaltender. He led the charge. It's something we needed, a pushback."
Lundqvist termed his performance "like night and day" compared to his return in Boston on Saturday from a vascular injury to his neck, when he allowed four goals in 26 minutes.
"I felt so much better today," he said. "My focus was being more comfortable. I was playing deep and patient, and my timing was better. Every period they came out flying. It was a good test for me and for the team to bounce back here. We needed this to feel good about our game."
With the win, the Rangers (48-21-7, 103 points) moved one point ahead of the Canadiens for first place in the Eastern Conference and stretched their lead in the Metropolitan Division to eight points ahead of both the Penguins and Islanders with six games to play.
The Jets stormed out of the locker room in the second, as they did in the first, and former Ranger Lee Stempniak, shipped to Winnipeg at the trade deadline, rifled a shot from the left circle, high glove side, at 1:24 for a 2-1 lead.
The Rangers had their second power play when Mathieu Perreault was sent off for interference on Dom Moore in the second. Derick Brassard latched onto a pass from Ryan McDonagh, took a couple strides and whistled a slap shot from the top of the left circle inside the near post for the tie at 10:13. It was only the 13th shot on Pavelec. The Jets missed wide early twice on another power play, with Rick Nash in the box for hooking with 6:21 left and didn't get a shot on Lundqvist.
The first period ended 1-1, with the Jets holding a 16-9 advantage in shots. Lundqvist was beaten early on a flip by Jim Slater from the right side, but Mats Zuccarello swooped in to score his 15th at 9:42 after Pavelec couldn't hold a rebound.
Lundqvist was tested early, on Bryan Little's wrister between the hashmarks and Blake Wheeler's wraparound at 2:15. The saves set the tone for a much-needed return to form for Lundqvist. "I know he's happy about that first win," Stepan said.