You wouldn’t necessarily call a 3-3 game in the third period a goaltenders’ duel, but Henrik Lundqvist and Canes goalkeeper Cam Ward were outstanding.
In the end, Ward was just a bit better.
Despite a season high 43 shots, the Rangers (4-4-1) lost their second straight at Madison Square Garden, 4-3, on a power play goal by Erik Cole at 16:01 of the third period.
"It's always fun to come out here and get the opportunity to play. When you see the goalie at the other end, making the saves he was making, because he's great too, it makes you really want to step up your game and match him. Not only match him, but do better."
Brian Boyle went off for hooking Jeff Skinner at 14:28 and Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky broke down shorthanded, but Ward stopped Callahan’s try. After Lundqvist made two saves, including one on Skinner, Cole, left alone in front, buried the game-winner.
"I looked at Dubi and it looked like the defenseman was playing him pretty hard," said Callahan of the missed 2 on 1. "I tried to take a good shot and he made a good save on me, unfortunately, they come back down and score, so it's a little more frustrating that it didn't go in."
To be sure, the Blueshirts had their chances in the third. With the score 3-3, Jay Harrison tripped Brandon Prust at 5:48 and the Rangers had their fifth power play of the night, having scored on two of the previous four and Ward absolutely stoned Prust and made an even better save with his right pad to turn away Derek Stepan from the right side.
"Both goalies played great," said Marc Staal. "Ward's been playing well all season long, we were getting good opportunities in tight, we were just unable to sneak them by when we needed to."
The Rangers, now 1-3-1 at home, immediately left for their third game this month against the Leafs on Saturday in Toronto.
"Very disappointing," said Lundqvist, who made 34 saves, including 17 in the third period. "There were a lot of chances both ways. Their power play was pretty good. They threw a lot of pucks on the net."
Both coach John Tortorella and players said the Rangers allowed too many quality scoring chances. "We've got to tighten up defensively," said Callahan."We're still running around a bit in our defensive zone. We're getting better but we have to limit their chances."
Down 2-0 early in the second on 18-year-old Jeff Skinner’s goal at 58 seconds, the Rangers fought back. Callahan batted down a bouncing puck on the doorstep at 4:06, his third goal in three games, and Staal, cheating in off the left point on another power play (with Tuomo Ruutu off for a slash) took a pass from Erik Christensen and beat Ward with a shortside wrister at 12:24.
The tie didn’t last long. A misplay at the Rangers blueline by Staal and Michal Rozsival led to a Skinner breakaway. He waited out Lundqvist and flipped a backhander in at 13:19 to restore the Canes’ lead. Skinner, chosen 7th overall in the June draft, also had an assist on the winner and was awarded the game's first star.
But a long, cross-ice pass from Callahan freed Dubinsky, who ripped a high wrister from the 18 feet that banged in off the crossbar at 15:43 as the Rangers came back for the second time as the Rangers ended with 18 shots in the period. It was Dubinsky’s team-leading fifth of the year.
In the first, the Rangers came out hard and got the puck past Ward in 58 seconds. Unfortunately, it was clearly kicked in during a scrum by Michael Del Zotto, who later had his rising shot just tipped away by Ward’s glove. Staal, coming off a lousy game on Wednesday, hit the crossbar. And Alex Frolov, alone in front after Stepan curled down the right side and behind the net, was robbed by Ward, who absorbed his wrister.
Behind in shots, 9-2, the Canes found their legs. Both penalty-kills had been superb, with Dan Girardi blocking two shots and a stickless Dubinsky diving to clear the zone with his gloved hand. Artem Anisimov’s skating created a shorthanded chance and almost connected with Ruslan Fedotenko in the slot.
But with Steve Eminger off for interference at 13:44 Tuomo Ruutu deflected an Anton Babchuk shot from the right circle and put in the rebound past a reaching Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead at 15:29. Carolina led in shots 12-11 to close out the first 20 minutes.
"We kept on fighting back," Tortorella said. "We just couldn't get the lead." And he said he was ----off about some of the inconsistencies in penalties, the critical one on Boyle and ones missed on Dubinsky. "I dont want to whine, it 's just frustrating when two teams fight so hard... I guess I am whining."