RALEIGH, N.C. — Henrik Lundqvist said after Monday’s practice that his game was close to where it needed to be, but it wasn’t good enough for him to play just OK. He needed to “take one more step,’’ he said.
Tuesday night, the 36-year-old goaltender did just that against the Carolina Hurricanes, stopping 43 shots, including one memorable one on Justin Williams from point blank range with 1:37 left, to preserve the Rangers’ gritty 2-1 win over the Hurricanes in the finale of their four-game road trip.
“For him, his game is making all the saves he should stop, and then a few ones that he probably shouldn’t,’’ defenseman and alternate captain Marc Staal said of Lundqvist. “And he did that tonight. He was making all the ones he needed to have, and then he made two or three spectacular saves that ended up winning a hockey game.”
Vladislav Namestnikov, who broke a 23-game goalless streak with his two goals Friday in Buffalo, scored the game-winner for the Rangers, his third goal in three games, as he banged in the rebound of Jimmy Vesey’s shot to break a 1-1 tie at 6:10 of the third period, two seconds after a Rangers power play had expired.
With the victory, the Rangers ended the trip 2-2, and improved their record on the season to 26-25-8, for 60 points. The Hurricanes, who are battling to get into the playoffs, began the day one point out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They fell to 31-23-8 (68 points).
For Lundqvist, who had watched backup Alexandar Georgiev play the previous two games, he was just happy to win.
“It’s just a good feeling to win,’’ Lundqvist said. “That’s all I want to do. When you don’t come up for the team and make that extra save to win games, it’s frustrating. I know what I have to correct. It’s a couple things here and there, and today I felt that the couple things I changed worked for me. It was a good game. I had to battle, we worked really hard — I think our PK was really good — but it was a fun game to win, the way we battled, I think. [And] for me, personally, to get rewarded for the changes I made.’’
After dressing seven defensemen and 11 forwards for four straight games, the Rangers went back to the more conventional 12-forward, six-defenseman look against the Hurricanes. Brady Skjei, who missed Sunday’s 6-5 loss in Pittsburgh with a knee issue, returned to the lineup, while Neal Pionk, who left Sunday’s game after taking a stick in the eye, was held out for “precautionary reasons,’’ according to coach David Quinn.
After a scoreless first period, the Hurricanes got on the board first on a goal by Jordan Martinook, who lifted the rebound of his own shot over Lundqvist at 9:53 of the second. But the Rangers equalized less than a minute later, on Connor Brickley’s first goal as a Ranger — and first of the season — although they needed help from video review to confirm that it counted.
Filip Chytil, playing on the fourth line with Brickley and center Boo Nieves, fired a shot that was saved by Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney, as Brickley, called up from AHL Hartford on Valentine’s Day, drove the net. The puck bounced off Brickley and in, but referee Wes McAuley waved it off immediately, apparently believing Brickley deliberately directed it in with his glove, rather than his stick. After the review the officials determined that the puck deflected in off Brickley inadvertently, and the goal stood.