The Rangers and the Red Wings are getting used to overtime. Seven of the last 13 games between them have been decided in in the extra period.
On Friday night it was yet another overtime game, and the Rangers prevailed.
Mats Zuccarello, on Brady Skjei’s hard-fought assist, beat goalie Jimmy Howard just 37 seconds into the extra period for a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers’ seventh straight win at home. Henrik Lundqvist, who has allowed just four goals in the last four games, posted 40 saves.
Being hounded by two defenders in the 3-on-3 overtime, Skjei’s first pass to Zuccarello, standing to Howard’s right, was blocked, but it bounced back to the Rangers defenseman. He swatted the puck a second time to the wide open Zuccarello, who waited and waited until he saw an opening and fired in his fourth of the season for the game-winner.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do, I thought he was going to give the puck back to me. I said ‘no no, no, shoot the puck,’ ” said Skjei.
The Rangers trailed 1-0 before Chris Kreider’s backhander bounced off Howard’s pad at 10:17 of the third to tie the score. It was Kreider’s third goal in the past two games. Tomas Tatar’s power-play blast, with Michael Grabner in the box, at 4:05 of the third had opened the scoring. The goal followed a failed attempt to clear by Marc Staal when Justin Abdelkader deflected his pass.
“We were getting our chances,” said Skjei. “You’re going to score a few times if you keep playing like that.”
Said Lundqvist: “It was a great finish by us.”
After the scoreless first period, when Lundqvist was forced to make 17 saves, the Blueshirts “talked in the locker room that we had to get going. (We were) coming off Thanksgiving, but that’s no excuse,” said Skjei.
Lundqvist, who was making his 11th consecutive start, had also faced 17 in the first period in Carolina on Wednesday. “I’m trying to be on my toes right now,” said Lundqvist. “I feel the last three or four weeks I’m playing the way I want to play, I’m aggressive but still patient. Part of that is to read the shots well, but also just battle in front. People talk to me about starting a lot of games (20), but physically, you never really get tired, it’s mentally. Right now, I’m in a nice flow where I don’t overthink things.”
With the win the Blueshirts, playing their second straight without defenseman Ryan McDonagh (abdominal strain), are 12-10-2 and 9-5-2 at home; the Wings are 10-9-4. The Rangers captain will miss Sunday’s game as well.
In the first 20 minutes, the Blueshirts were hemmed in not only by two Detroit power plays, courtesy of penalties by Brendan Smith, but at even strength, and Lundqvist had to foil breakaways by Dylan Larkin, with a right arm save, and Gustav Nyqvist, with his glove.
The Wings also missed the net with seven shots and six were blocked. And they did it with 11 forwards, having dressed seven defensemen. The Rangers had just six shots on Howard in the first, who finished with 30 saves.
But Lundqvist, in a vintage performance, controlled rebounds and kept the Rangers in.
“He’s confident in there,” said Marc Staal. “He looks like he’s enjoying himself. It looks like he’s having some fun, he’s smiling and competing hard. Obviously, he gives us a chance to win every game.”