A 41-save gem by Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov tonight denied the Rangers a chance to prevent the surging Pittsburgh Penguins from whittling their Eastern Conference lead to two points.
“Their goalie saved the day for them,” said Henrik Lundqvist after a 3-1 loss in which the Rangers fired a season-high 42 shots. “I told the guys before the game, this guy is fast side-to-side. He plays pretty low, so try to go upstairs, maybe on the blocker side.”
But Varlamov, the former Capitals netminder who has won nine of his last 11 games for the Avalanche, who climbed into seventh place in the Western Conference, was brilliant. He has surrendered only 18 goals in the last 11 games.
“It was one of the better performances I’ve seen,” said coach John Tortorella. “You can’t get discouraged… As I always say, it’s how you play, sometimes you have to forget about the result.”
Nonetheless, it’s a results business, and with their second consecutive regulation loss, the Rangers (44-20-7) missed an opportunity to keep the Penguins at a three- or four-point distance.
Hours before the puck dropped at Madison Square Garden, the Penguins smoked the Devils, 5-2, for their 11th straight win. The Rangers host the Devils on Monday in the fifth game of a 2-2 homestand.
“We just have to continue to work,” said Ryan Callahan, who had seven shots in his return after missing three games with a swollen and bruised foot. “If we play like that, nine times out of 10 we come out with a win. We’ve got to do the same thing Monday. Points are at a premium right now. Pittsburgh’s right there and Philly’s creeping up, we’ve got to get going here.”
Mats Zuccarello put the Rangers in front at 10:43 of the first. Battling with Erik Johnson in the paint, Dan Girardi’s shot from the boards deflected off Zuccarello’s shaft and past Varlamov. It was Zuccarello’s first in seven games and the first Rangers goal by someone other than Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin since Sunday. They wouldn’t solve Varlamov again, although Zuccarello rang the post off a defensive zone faceoff win by Richards on a power play in the third when the Rangers were trailing 2-1. “---- happens sometimes,” said Zuccarello. “We just ran into a hot goaltender.”
At 1:05 of the third with Colorado leading 2-1, Brandon Dubinsky’s shot was stopped by Varlamov, but trickled behind him, and somehow got the knob of his stick to tuck the puck back under him. The Avalanche also stymied the Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik line, which had combined for nine goals in the last three games.
Although the Rangers outshot the Avalanche 16-6, the first period ended 1-1. On a 2 on 2, Matt Hunwick undressed Stu Bickel and backhanded a high shot over Lundqvist at 15:01. Gabriel Landeskog, 19, the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, got his stick down in front of Lundqvist to tick Ryan Wilson's shot that slid through Lundqvist's pads at 9:51 of the second for his 21st goal. Paul Stastny added an empty netter with 14 seconds left.
“We had the puck most of the night,” said Tortorella. “We want the points but you also have to look at the whole situation as we go through these next three weeks.”