Twice in the third period tonight, the Rangers coughed up one-goal leads to the Los Angeles Kings.
In what had to be the most disheartening moment, while protecting a 3-2 lead, Dustin Brown’s backhander from behind the net glanced off the back of Henrik Lundqvist’s head to tie the score at three with just 2:21 remaining in regulation.
But Lundqvist and the Rangers persevered---even though a power-play in overtime was short-circuited by a Brandon Dubinsky penalty---and edged the Kings in a shootout, 4-3.
After shootout goals from Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello against goaltender Jonathan Bernier, Lundqvist, who had stopped Michal Hanzus with a blocker save earlier, needed to stop Anze Kopitar for the two points and the 200th victory of his career.
Lundqvist refused to go for Kopitar’s fake and his hard wrister went off Lundqvist’s left shoulder as he fell backwards into the crease and the Garden crowd erupted.
“He came up big. It was a tough spot for him because how the (third) goal goes in,” said coach John Tortorella. “It’s one of those fluky goals and he’s had a number of those of late. Tonight was good for him as far as getting the opportunity to make the big save to win a hockey game.”
It was a wild finish.
Just before Brown’s goal, Artem Anisimov’s jam-in of Brandon Dubinsky’s wraparound off Bernier’s skate with 3:02 left had given the Rangers a 3-2 lead. But there were more twists and turns to come.
As time expired in regulation, Marc Staal was felled by Alexei Ponikarovsky’s high stick, giving the Rangers a 4 on 3 for four minutes. But Dubinsky’s stick caught Willie Mitchell high at 1:48 of overtime, negating the man advantage, and it became a 3 on 3, and eventually a 4 on 4 before the shootout.
Ryan Callahan, who swatted Derek Stepan’s shot past Bernier at 4:01 of the second to tie the score at 1---his third goal in two games---layed a huge role on the penalty kill throughout the game. On an earlier Dubinsky penalty, midway through the second period,Callahan starred, blocking two shots, one without his stick, and throwing checks before retrieving the lumber. “He bailed out some people, namely his buddy Dubinsky, who took some stupid penalties,” Tortorella said.
In the third, Marian Gaborik made a long-awaited contribution, scoring his first goal in eight games on a fluttering shot from the top of the right circle at 6:10 to provide a 2-1 lead. But the Kings tied the score when Matt Greene’s long shot hit Brian Boyle’s stick, changed direction and went through Lundqvist’s pads at 7:50.
“They got the bounces they needed to get them back in the game,” said Lundqvist, who had started his third game after struggling and sitting out while Martin Biron played two games. No. 200 was special. “I just hope I get the opportunity to stay here and get another 200,” he said.
Tortorella was pleased by overall resiliency of his team, which has won two straight, retained seventh place in the East and visits the surging Devils tonight in Newark.
“I just think we’ve got some (onions), we’ve been that way all year long," he said. "Are we playing our best hockey now? No. Did we make some mistakes? Yes. But we’ve got (onions) and I hope that keeps transforming that we find ways to win hockey games in the grind that’s going to come up here. I just like the mental makeup of our team.”