For so many seasons, the Rangers fan's mantra has been "Where would we be without Henrik Lundqvist?''
Through thick and thin, mostly thin, such as when the Blueshirts have failed to score in stretches, Lundqvist kept the Rangers in games, big and small. Heck, remember the Stanley Cup Final?
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But with Lundqvist out with a vascular injury to his neck, 27-year-old Cam Talbot has stepped into the breach with poise under pressure. With their MVP sidelined, the Rangers are just a point away from first place in the Metropolitan Division, with Talbot holding his own.See alsoLatest NHL playoff pictureSee alsoIsles vs. Rangers: Who's better where?
He did it again Tuesday night, making 29 saves in a 2-1 win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
Sure, in his previous start there, on Feb. 16, Talbot's gaffe with a pass allowed John Tavares a gimme goal at the 11-second mark, but the Rangers rallied to win a crazy game, 6-5.
On Tuesday night, few observers expected another 11 goals.
In Talbot's 16th start after Lundqvist was shut down, he raised his record to 11-2-3 since Feb. 4.
Talbot, who was named the NHL's third star of the week Monday, didn't flinch. He stayed the course in a gritty game at the Coliseum.
His strong performance came after his 2-0-1 run with a 0.99 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage. He also made 29 saves in Sunday's 1-0 overtime win at Chicago -- the Rangers' first shutout of the Blackhawks since Eddie Giacomin did it in 1969.
In the past four games, against some of the best teams in the NHL -- Nashville, Detroit, Chicago and the Islanders -- the Rangers have allowed only four goals.
Asked what stood out in those four games, Derick Brassard quickly responded: "Our goalie.''
Talbot was sturdy in the first period, stopping 12 of 13 shots when the Islanders could have had a handful of goals.
"They certainly came out hard on us again in the first period and Cam kept us in,'' coach Alain Vigneault said.
"I felt really strong from the get-go,'' said Talbot, who has played the longest stretch in his career since his days in the AHL. "I've been gaining confidence game after game and the guys have been unbelievable.''
The one goal that eluded him was a deflected shot from Anders Lee, who came from behind the cage, bulled through Dan Boyle at the right post and banked the puck off Marc Staal's skate at 9:35 of the first.
"I had the paddle down,'' Talbot said. "It must've gone under my blocker.''
But Talbot may have turned the game around with 1:22 left in the second period and the score tied at 1. Josh Bailey walked in alone, Talbot waited him out and stopped his backhander.
"I'm not as calm as you think out there,'' Talbot said.
"You just try to make him make the first move, try not to bite, because once you do, you're exposed. If they go ahead 2-1, it could be a different game going into the third, so I just try to do my best -- until we can get a second goal.''