In the NHL, shots don’t count, goals and saves do.
And the Rangers are fortunate that those are the rules.
On Monday night, they managed only nine shots through the first two periods on Kings goaltender Jeff Zatkoff but scored twice. And on their 13th shot at 6:40 of the third period, after taking J.T. Miller’s backhand pass, Mats Zuccarello netted the Rangers’ third goal of the evening.
It turned out to be the winning goal, and the 3-2 decision at Madison Square Garden was the Rangers’ third straight victory.
The credit goes to Henrik Lundqvist, who no longer is struggling and has allowed only four goals in his last three games. Acrobatic and quick, Lundqvist fended off 36 of 38 shots, including three stellar stops on Jeff Carter, as the Rangers swept the back-to-back games against Detroit and Los Angeles.
“Especially in this town, you have to take a step back sometimes. You have a couple tough games and right away, you have a lot of people asking questions,” said Lundqvist, who was beaten on Jordan Nolan’s rebound late in the second period and Kyle Clifford’s shot with eight-tenths of a second left in the third. “You just try to stay cool and confident and keep doing the same things you’ve always been doing and you know it’s going to turn around.”
“It’s nice to get a goal so you guys can stop talking about it,” said Zuccarello, who had been blanked for 15 games, although he had piled up assists. “We played a good team and we were not up to our standards, but it’s real important to get a win when you’re not playing your best. Hank was amazing. He’s our most important player and we didn’t give him good enough help for a stretch. We have no worries for Hank. In my opinion, he’s the best goalie in the world, and he showed that tonight.”
For two periods, the Kings used their size, grinding away, finishing their checks and playing chippy.
Brandon Pirri gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 11:31 of the first period, scoring unassisted after a pass bounced off Nick Shore’s skate to him.
After some uncalled, not-so-subtle whacks on Zuccarello, Kevin Klein came to his defense, dropping the gloves with Brayden McNabb at 17:18 and landing the most blows.
“Big moment for our team,” Derek Stepan said. “It’s something I know Kevin doesn’t love to do, but he understands it’s a big part of the game.”
That spark grew into a flame fanned by Lundqvist, who made 14 saves in the first 20 minutes.
“Hank was making big saves, and sometimes we need that to wake up the group a little, and we found a way to win a greasy game,” said Miller, who has 10 points in 11 games. He took over at center for Kevin Hayes, who will miss two to three weeks with a left leg injury suffered against the Red Wings.
“I thought I could’ve been better tonight in the defensive zone,” Miller added. “I was a little rusty, puck-watching a little too much.”
In the second, Matt Puempel zipped the puck past Zatkoff for his sixth goal. He had missed the previous eight games because of concussion symptoms.
After a three-save flurry from Lundqvist, including one minus his stick, Nolan scored on a rebound at 18:01, but the Rangers survived the 40 minutes with a 2-1 lead.
“We didn’t panic, even though they had the puck more,” Lundqvist said. “We have the skill that we don’t need that many chances to score, we just need the right type of chances . . . and right now, you want to feel good about yourself, so every save matters to me.”