For Henrik Lundqvist, it was all about patience.
The Rangers were hanging on to a one-goal lead over the Carolina Hurricanes early in the third period Friday night when Jeff Skinner took a long stretch pass and zeroed in on Lundqvist while being harassed by Kevin Shattenkirk. Lundqvist stopped the shot, but Skinner was awarded a penalty shot at 3:20.
Skinner skated in and Lundqvist held his ground. “You wait for him to make the move. You don’t want to make the first move,” said Lundqvist, who knocked away Skinner’s wrister to preserve the lead.
Michael Grabner then scored two empty-net goals 1:01 apart to finish a hat trick and Paul Carey added a power-play goal with 40 seconds left to complete the Rangers’ 5-1 victory at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s always hard to know what they’re going to call in that situation,” said Lundqvist (32 saves). “I’ve seen it go both ways. I felt like [Skinner] got a pretty good opportunity to shoot the puck.
“There was the shootout last week,’’ he added, referring to the seven-round shootout against the Canucks that was won by the Rangers on Nov. 26. “I got to work on it a bit. A couple things I did well in that situation. Similar situation this time and the timing was perfect. I felt good, felt like I had him under control.”
The Rangers didn’t have anything under control until Grabner’s first empty-netter, which came seven seconds after Carolina coach Bill Peters pulled goalie Scott Darling with 2:20 left in regulation. With 1:12 left, Grabner’s second empty-netter propelled him into the NHL lead with six. Carolina argued for offsides but lost the challenge.
Grabner has a team-high 13 goals. “First of all,” he said, “I try to kill the time, but when I get the chance, especially if it’s a one-goal game, I just try to go and get that goal. It’s a big relief when you go up by two goals. One-goal games, it’s always nerve-wracking. Just one bad bounce, like we’ve seen it in the playoffs, a team comes back.”
“There’s tons of guys with speed in this game, they can really skate, but he’s got great hockey sense with it,” said Ryan McDonagh, who had five blocks and an assist in 22:54 in his first game since missing four with an abdominal strain. “You see the first five-on-five goal he scores and even the empty-net goals, he’s not really ever cheating on them. He’s creating opportunities by pressuring d-men and getting loose pucks when they’re chipped out.”
That first goal, at even strength, provided a 2-1 lead at 1:52 of the second period. Grabner drove to the net with Justin Faulk in pursuit and redirected a pass from the right boards by Shattenkirk.
So in the first of a four-game stretch against Metropolitan Division foes, the Rangers (14-10-2) got off on the right foot without No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad, who sat out with concussion symptoms.
To be sure, it wasn’t easy. Carolina went up 1-0 on a 48-foot knuckler that beat Lundqvist 56 seconds into the game.
The Rangers tied it when Darling fumbled a puck on his stick during a power play and David Desharnais, subbing for Zibanejad, pounced on it and scored 37 seconds into the second period.
“It was a pretty challenging game. They had some good looks throughout,’’ Lundqvist said. “It’s obviously a big win for us. You want to bounce back after the other day.”