If things had gone according to plan, Henrik Lundqvist wouldn’t have been playing in Saturday night’s game against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden, Rangers coach David Quinn said.
“The plan originally was to play Georgie [backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev],’’ Quinn said after the Rangers beat the Panthers, 4-2, to get back on the winning track after losing to the Islanders on Thursday night in Brooklyn — a game in which Lundqvist was pulled after two periods.
“But after what happened [in Brooklyn], and as I said when I put Georgie in for the third period . . . I wanted to get [Lundqvist] back in. Because, obviously, he’s having a heck of a year and he’s our goalie and I didn’t want to wait too long to get back in there, so we put him back in there tonight and he did what he’s been doing all year long.’’
What Lundqvist did was make 39 saves, get an assist on Chris Kreider’s third-period power-play goal and earn his 438th career victory, moving past Jacques Plante and into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time wins list.
“There’s really not much more to say about him,’’ Quinn said of the 36-year-old goaltender. “He’s been an elite goalie for a long time, and I think he’s going to be an elite goalie for a while to come.’’
Lundqvist, who is 7-7-2 this season, seemed to savor the achievement of moving past Plante.
“When you enter the top 10, I think that’s the first time you really start to look at that list,’’ he said. “They’re very good goalies, and goalies that played a huge part in the history of the game, so it means a lot to me.
“At the same time, it’s a stat where it’s really the team. It’s more that, as a goalie, you’ve been part of a lot of good teams. They’ve helped you to be in this position. As a goalie, yeah, you have to do your part, but it’s definitely a team stat.’’
The Rangers moved to 7-1-1 in their last nine games and 10-8-2 overall. Aside from his own performance, Lundqvist got the win because his teammates got timely goals and made solid and smart plays to grab the lead and protect it.
Quinn had been bitterly disappointed about the way the Rangers played in front of their own net against the Islanders, allowing four goals on deflections or tap-ins, and the team worked on net-front play at practice on Friday. They allowed no such goals by the Panthers.
The Rangers took a 3-2 lead early in the second period on a controversial goal by Vladislav Namestnikov that survived a video replay review. Mika Zibanejad threw the puck to the front of the net and Namestnikov fired a quick shot that Roberto Luongo stopped. However, the rebound flipped up in the air, went over Luongo and landed on the ice. Luongo fell backward, but referee Kendrick Nicholson immediately called it a goal. After a review, the goal stood and the Rangers had the lead at 2:37 of the period.
The Rangers have had trouble protecting late leads this season, so taking a 3-2 lead into the third was nice, but it didn’t mean the game was put away by any means. Kreider did that on a power play when he ripped a wrist shot past Luongo on the rush at 7:56 for his 11th goal of the season.
The Rangers got off to a fast start when red-hot rookie Filip Chytil scored his third goal in three games to give them a lead at 3:03 of the first period. After Florida took the lead by scoring the next two goals, by Mike Hoffman at 4:40 and defenseman Aaron Ekblad at 10:11, Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith — returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous three games — tied it at 2 on a wrist shot from the left wing faceoff dot at 11:49.