Henrik Lundqvist said he didn't see what happened. But all 18,200 fans at Madison Square Garden---and those watching on television---did.
After Benoit Pouliot plowed the Rangers' most valuable player into the net at 16:21 in the third period, with the Rangers ahead 5-3, Lundqvist lay in the ice, neck bent, with trainer Jim Ramsay on the way.
The team's No. 1 goaltender, who had made several key saves in the third period (22 overall) in his 16th consecutive start, continued playing, but after Vinny Prospal scored on the ensuing power play to secure a 6-3 win, Lundqvist was not celebrating in the locker room.
When he emerged from an exam and treatment more than an hour later, Lundqvist said his neck was "pretty sore right now. But I was clear (headed) the whole time, so that's good. I'm going to be a little stiff tomorrow, but I'll be okay." But it remained unclear whether he would play against the Penguins on Sunday afternoon.
“It wasn’t intentional,” said coach John Tortorella. “It was just a hockey play. We try to take care of the blue (the crease), we try to get to the blue, and when there’s contact, I think it’s part of the game.”
It was the darkest moment in a strong effort by the Rangers, who won their third straight game, and fifth in the last six, courtesy of a five-goal first period---a high for any period in four years---and derailed the Canadiens, who had beaten them in five straight games dating back to last season.
“We’re starting to build confidence,” said Ryan Callahan. “We’ve struggled at home and this time of year, you need to win here."
Three of the goals came in 1:07, a burst that busted open a 2-1 game and chased Vezina Trophy candidate Carey Price, who has carried the Canadiens to sixth place in the East so far this season. Callahan was credited with the first goal in the trio, which was initially waved off. Callahan's shot hit the helmet of James Wisniewski, popped in the air, fell behind Price and trickled across the goal line at 17:09. A video review overturned the call on the ice. Marian Gaborik then scored his fourth goal in the last four games at 17:41, and Brian Boyle scored his 21st of the year, finishing passes from Marc Staal and Brandon Prust with a low shot through Price.
"It wasn't his fault," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said of his beleaguered goalie. "There were breakdowns and they capitalized."
But the Canadiens, who had played on Thursday night and were 6-8 in the second games of back-to-backs this season, found their pulse in the second period and Wisniewski scored on a slap shot at the 4:13 mark. Each team had nine shots in the second, as Alex Auld kept the Rangers at bay.
Then, on a power play in the third, Brian Gionta tipped in Wisniewski's shot at 54 seconds and the roaring Madison Square Garden crowd had to take a deep breath. After all, on Feb.18, 2008, the Rangers were leading 5-0 in the second period at the Bell Centre, but the Canadians stormed back and won 6-5.
With Pouliot in the box, Prospal managed to get his stick on Dan Girardi'sshot and it bounced past Auld with 2:45 remaining for the final tally.
With the win, the Blueshirts, seventh in the Eastern Conference, raised their record to 38-30-4 (80 points) and moved to within five points of the sixth-place Canadiens (39-26-7). The eighth-place Buffalo Sabres, with 76 points, were idle, and the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes, courtesy of a 3-2 edging of the Islanders, also have 76. Buffalo has two games in hand.
The Rangers, who had come up empty in three games against Montreal this season, scoring just three goals, came out with a chip on their shoulders. Prust dropped the gloves with Travis Moen one second after the opening faceoff and scrums continued for the first two periods, with 12 penalties called, six for each side. “That sent the message,” said Prospal.
Lundqvist has now won at least 30 games in each of his first six seasons, the only goaltender in NHL history to do so... The last time the Rangers scored at least five goals in a period was March 17, 2007 against the Bruins...The last time they had scored five in the first period was even longer: Dec. 15, 1999, when they scored six against the Los Angeles Kings.