PITTSBURGH---Wearing new pads and gloves, Henrik Lundqvist frustrated the Penguins Friday night, stopping 37 of 38 shots in a 3-1 victory, the goaltender’s sixth straight win and the ninth in ten games for the surging Rangers. But the Swedish netminder, who is 18-7-4, said it isn’t necessarily the equipment that makes the man.
“I’ve been working on my stance and I pay more attention to my gloves,” Lundqvist said. “I’m a reaction guy, not a block guy. But it all starts with my battle level. This year, I compete the way I want to compete.”
In the first 10 or 12 minutes of the game, it appeared that the rested Penguins, who hadn’t played in five days, were going to run the Rangers out of the CONSOL Energy Center, which replaced the old Mellon Arena, known as The Igloo, last season. The Rangers, meanwhile, in the second game in two nights, looked as if they were skating in snowdrifts.
At 5:43, Ben Lovejoy scored his first goal of the season. Craig Adams drew defenders to the left boards, Lovejoy was alone in the slot and he beat Lundqvist through the five hole. That was a good sign for the sellout crowd and the Penguins, who were 14-4-3 when scoring first. But coach John Tortorella called a timeout, and the tide started to turn.
“I just wanted to let them know we’re not mailing this in, because that’s the look we had,” Tortorella said, admitting his players were tired. “They (the Penguins) came out flying; we played more physical, that’s what we corrected and the game changed,” said Lundqvist.
The Penguins led in shots, 11-1, with the only Rangers shot coming at 11:08 of the period, Derek Stepan’s backhand that was turned aside by Marc-Andre Fleury.
But the Rangers managed to tie the game at 18:17, when Brad Richards won a faceoff from the left circle, and got the puck back to Ryan McDonagh, who barged down the boards and wristed a bad-angle shot in front that hit Brandon Dubinsky and bounced to Richards at the top of the crease, where he slammed it home.
“We played ugly as hell, tired as hell, but we did everything we could, blocking shots and clearing the puck to hang in,” said Richards.
The opportunistic Blueshirts (26-9-4) took the lead in the second with their sixth shorthander of the season. With the score tied at 1, Marc Staal was whistled for a high-stick at 1:42, but Ryan Callahan broke down the right side on a 3 on 1 and deked a defenseman, allowing him to slide a pass to Dubinsky for a tap in at the left post. Dubinsky has scored four of his five goals in the last eight games. “He’s coming, you can see his confidence,” said Tortorella. “I think he’s really helped Brad…he’s beginning to be a bull.”
Finally, misplays by Fleury and defenseman Zbynek Michalek at 1:20 of the third period were costly and Stepan scored into a half-empty net. Fleury wandered into the right faceoff circle to corral a clearing pass, but fanned on the puck. Gaborik pounced and his backhander hit the post. Michalek retrieved the puck, but gifted it to Stepan in front.
With 11:01 left in regulation and the score 3-1, Chris Kunitz slammed into Lundqvist as a trailing James Neal shot the puck into the cage, but the score was waved off. “They hit me in the head, I was twisted around," said Lundqvist. It was an easy call.” But far from an easy game.