TORONTO---As this remarkable regular season winds down, the Rangers won a game here last night in the fashion that has held them together since October: Rebound immediately from losses and even when they don’t play well, kill penalties and score timely goals to secure points.
Last night, the Rangers were far from consistent in a rollercoaster game, yet extended the lead they have had atop the Eastern Conference since Dec. 30, edging the Maple Leafs 4-3, in a shootout on goals by Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan and key stops by Henrik Lundqvist.
With 101 points---the seventh time that the century mark has been cracked in franchise history and the first since 2005-06---the Blueshirts (47-21-7) moved three points ahead of Pittsburgh. The Penguins were rocked by the Ottawa Senators, 8-4, and remained at 98 points. The Rangers have six games to play, the Penguins seven.
“It’s not like we’re doing everything great, but I liked the way we found a way to win,” said coach John Tortorella, who started Henrik Lundqvist back-to-back to “get him in the flow.”
Lundqvist (22 saves), who was playing in his fourth back-to-back of the season, stopped Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak in the shootout to insure the second point. He has now started on consecutive days 58 times in his career, and is 37-14-7.
“Right after (Friday’s)’s game (a 4-1 loss to the Sabres), they told me I was going again,” said Lundqvist, who confessed that he had watched the move of Kadri scoring in the shootout on Friday night on television, “just in case,” and tried to fake him to force him to make a play. “It worked, I guess,” he said. “I’m trying to push myself right now to be a little sharper. For a few weeks, it’s been okay, but I need to come out and get some big saves and be the difference.”
The Blueshirts had their first lead, 3-2, at 4:19 of the third, when Marian Gaborik scored his second goal of the night and 37thof the season. Richards, who had two assists. circled at the blue line with the puck and threaded a pass through defenders to Gaborik, who beat Jonas Gustavsson five-hole. But that edge lasted just 18 seconds, when Tim Connolly beat Lundqvist.
The Rangers could have folded. Instead, the penalty-killers and Lundqvist stuffed three consecutive Leafs power plays between 5:54 and 11:53, a huge boost. “It was good to get that first point,” said Dan Girardi, who was the culprit on the third infraction, a trip. “It was pretty nerve-wracking in the box…it was a big step forward.”
With the Leafs up 1-0 in the shootout, Richards, who had been 0-for-8 on the season, beat Gustavsson in the second round. “When things are going in the net in regulation, you have a different feeling going down the ice,” said Richards, who has six goals in the past nine games.
Richards is well aware of the heat from the Penguins. “They’ve played lights out too, but we’re going to see them again (on April 5 in the next-to-last game of the season.) “We’ll have a good chance. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up. It’s not in our game plan to be letting up three or four goals.”