Henrik Lundqvist made 39 saves, including a barrage of 16 in the first period, and the Rangers’ fourth line came through with a strong effort as the Blueshirts won their third straight game, decking the Ducks, 4-1, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Alain Vigneault took center David Desharnais off the first line to make room for the returning Mika Zibanejad, but moved Desharnais to the fourth line and was rewarded.
“One forward had to come out, and for tonight’s game, I felt Davey deserved to stay in,” Vigneault said before the game. “I lean toward players that give us the best chance to win. If you look at Davey’s game, that line had good zone time. I want him to bring that with Jimmy (Vesey) and Paul (Carey).”
He did. Desharnais set up two goals for Carey with pinpoint passes. Those scores were sandwiched around Kevin Hayes’ eighth goal, and Michael Grabner’s team-leading 17th sealed the deal late in the third.
“I think the first period was the key, we were not on top of our game,” said Lundqvist, who allowed only Ondrej Kase’s wrister with 5:17 left in regulation. “The game is all about competing right now, the type of chances that I see, a lot of one-on-one, I’ve got to be on my toes at all times. We had two days off and it took us some time to get going. I think we all felt like we had to raise our level. We get that late goal, which was huge.”
In the first, the Ducks had taken away the middle of the ice, forcing the Rangers to regroup regularly in their own end. After Lundqvist made three consecutive saves on one shift, Rickard Rakell got behind all five Rangers for a break-in from the blue line, and Lundqvist came up with a huge blocker save.
“It was up-and-down hockey to start, and Hank kept us in it,” Brady Skjei said.
Then with 46 seconds left in the period, Desharnais set up Carey in front with a backhand pass from the right boards for a 1-0 lead. Just 38 seconds into the second period, Hayes wired a high, short-side shot from the left dot off a cross-ice pass from Mats Zuccarello for a 2-0 advantage. Desharnais stopped quickly on a rush and found Carey between the circles at the 13-minute mark. It was the first multi-point game of Carey’s NHL career.
“It’s a big night, it’s nice to see some pucks go in,” Carey said. “(Desharnais) is a great player, sees the ice really well, you’ve just got to keep your stick on the ice.’’
Speaking of the second goal, Carey said, “Staal was center-driving there, and opened up some space. I was the late guy. It’s hard to find that much time and space at this level, so you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.”
But it all circles back to Lundqvist, who has made 105 saves on 110 shots in the last three games. He also has made an impressive 29 starts in 34 games.
At 35, he admits he has changed his approach a bit.
“I think the way I take care of myself right now as I’m getting older — the way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I prepare — I try to do everything to stay on top of my game,’’ Lundqvist said. “The team is playing really well (on a 10-3-1 run), and that’s helpful. I can focus on the shooter a lot. The last month and a half I’ve been feeling really good.”