RALEIGH, N.C. -- Henrik Lundqvist was flat-out exhausted. Less than 24 hours after a loss in Pittsburgh in which he tweaked his left hamstring against Evgeni Malkin in the shootout, Lundqvist followed up with a stellar performance last night, stopping 48 shots -- a career high in regulation -- in a 4-1 victory over the Hurricanes.
"I'm just so tired I don't know what I'm saying," Lundqvist said. "The key for me was that I was patient. I was waiting for shots, and as the game moved on, I gained some confidence. I could stay deep and wait for the puck. That's my game."
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But it wasn't that simple, that ordinary, for the team's MVP the last six seasons and the Vezina Trophy winner last year. "That's the best I've seen him play since I've been here," John Tortorella said. "He stole us one."
Even players who had watched Lundqvist from afar were impressed. "You don't get to see him that often, except on TV," said Ryane Clowe, who had played his entire career in San Jose before Tuesday's trade. "But in person, he's one of the most intense competitors I've ever played with."
Thanks to Lundqvist, who has allowed two or fewer goals in his last 10 games, the Rangers (19-15-4) are headed north, while Carolina fell to 1-10-1 in the last dozen. With 10 games left in the regular season, the seventh-place Rangers (3-0-1 in April) have 42 points and a game in hand on the Islanders, who also have 42 points. Both are two points behind the Senators and two points ahead of the Jets.
Since Mats Zuccarello's return and the trades for Clowe and the Blue Jackets' Derick Brassard and John Moore, "it's a different atmosphere in the room," Lundqvist said. "Not only did we get some skilled players, it changed the dynamic. It's a lot better feeling in here. It looks like the lines are working better together and we're going to need it. It's going to be tough all the way down here."
The Hurricanes outworked the Rangers in the first period, sagged in the second and broke through in the third on Zac Dalpe's goal at 9:27 to foil Lundqvist's bid for his first shutout of the season. "First and third periods, we were nowhere to be found," Tortorella said.
After a scoreless first, the tide turned in 31 seconds.
Derek Stepan, left alone in the slot as three Hurricanes were behind the goal line chasing Brad Richards, beat Dan Ellis on the power play two minutes into the second period. Then, with Ellis caught behind the net, Rick Nash fed Ryan Callahan for a gimme and a lead that the Rangers never relinquished.
The Rangers left the ice up 3-0 when Nash spun untouched between the circles and zipped a shot through Ellis at 11:19 for a second power-play tally. It was Nash's team-leading 15th goal and provided a bulge that put the game at PNC Arena, which contained a sizable number of Rangers fans, seemingly in safe territory
Brian Boyle's empty-netter came a tick before the final buzzer, but he was depressed about being at fault on Dalpe's goal.
"I told Hank I'll make it up to him," Boyle said.
The rest of the team owes him one, too.