Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein, still playing with a broken thumb, was cruising down the slot toward Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard in overtime, waiting for a pass from teammate Kevin Hayes that had the potential to decide Sunday night’s game against the Red Wings.
“I was kind of peeking [at Howard],” said the defenseman, who entered the game with only four goals this season. “He did a great job of coming across. I just tried to put it far side as best I could. Hayzie, I mean, he put a perfect pass in there for me.”
Klein pulled the trigger, beating Howard at 1:59 of OT to give the Rangers a 1-0 victory at Madison Square Garden that lifted the Blueshirts to 22-6-3 at home.
Chris Kreider received the secondary assist on the game-winner. After Henrik Lundqvist made a sprawling save on Gustav Nyquist, the puck trickled into the crease, where it was grabbed by Kreider, who circled the net and backhanded a long pass up ice to Hayes to trigger the two-on-one.
Klein leads the team in overtime goals (three) since the start of last season. Hayes also won seven of 11 faceoffs and has a point in four of his last six games.
The Rangers (74 points) moved five points ahead of the Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
In what Detroit observers called his best game of the season, Howard, who was 7-9-4 coming in and had lost the No. 1 job to Petr Mrazek, made 29 saves.
Lundqvist made 22 to record his fourth shutout of the season and fifth straight win over the Red Wings.
All that came before Klein, who played most of his career with the Predators before coming to the Rangers in a January 2014 trade for Michael Del Zotto, ended it.
“We saw him a lot in Nashville,” he said of Howard. “We scored every once in a while. I’ll take it.”
For Hayes, it was a bit of redemption for having his goal disallowed at 6:53 of the third period on a coaches’ challenge for goaltender interference.
It appeared that the Rangers had broken through with a 1-0 lead with 14:07 left in regulation, but the goal was disallowed.
Howard, who had misplayed the puck behind the net, reached out with his stick from the crease as Oscar Lindberg was coming past the right side and tripped him. The puck slid out to Hayes, who fired from the goal line to the left of Howard and scored.
But a review determined that Lindberg’s skate made contact with his mask and prevented Howard from getting back in position.
Then, with 5:25 left in regulation, Howard stopped Jesper Fast’s penalty shot with his blocker, a play that resulted from Fast being pulled down from behind by defenseman Mike Green.
Howard, diving to his right, then robbed Fast again on a two-on-none feed at the left post with about 3:20 left.
“In the last 10 minutes of the game, you definitely know the next goal wins,” said Lundqvist, who earlier was aided when a couple of shots hit posts and the crossbar.
The Rangers, now 4-4 in overtime, had the better of the play in the first period but couldn’t solve Howard. They were up 7-0 in shots before Justin Abdelkader’s long wrister at 12:09 was stopped by Lundqvist.
“After that it was a battle,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “It was a 1-0 game, but it had some huge looks. It could have been different.”