RALEIGH, N.C.– If Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t tired before, he is now.
The Rangers 37-year-old goalie proved that his back is still strong enough to carry a fumbling team to a victory. He was absolutely outstanding in leading his team to a 4-2 win over the Hurricanes on Thursday night.
Starting both games of a back-to-back for the 85th time in his career, Lundqvist put up a throwback 45-save performance against a formidable Carolina team, backing up his 35-save performance in a 5-1 home win over the Red Wings on Wednesday.
And despite the Rangers being outshot, 47-19, they suddenly have won two in a row, temporarily stopping the sky from falling.
The Rangers (7-6-1) were coming in having started the season in a bipolar manner. It was an awful loss to the Bruins followed by two impressive wins over the Lightning and Predators, followed by another putrid performance against the Senators, and then another good one against the lowly Red Wings on Wednesday.
So they came into this game with the resurgent Hurricanes (9-6-1) with the hopes of finding some stability. Coach David Quinn went back to Lundqvist, not all that surprising after what was a rather simple game against the Red Wings.
But this was not an easy night, not by any stretch of the imagination. Lundqvist already had piled up 33 saves by the end of the second period, when his team was improbably leading, 2-1.
The Rangers managed to extend the lead to 3-1 when Pavel Buchnevich drove hard to the net and snuck one around outstretched goalie Petr Mrazek at 1:15. But Carolina kept pushing, and got a great chance to get one back when Nino Niederreiter had a clean break up the left wing following a bad change by the Rangers. But Lundqvist made arguably his best save of the night, preserving the two-goal edge.
The Hurricanes did get one on a hope play, a shot off the wall from Sebastian Aho that deflected off Lias Andersson’s stick and past Lundqvist, cutting the lead to 3-2 with 4:02 remaining in regulation.
But Carolina had to pull Mrazek, and Adam Fox was able to get one into the empty net to make it 4-2 and finish things off.
There was a bit of uncertainty with the lineup before the game, as Quinn had said the club had “a couple issues, health-wise.” Whether related or not, it ended up being defenseman Brady Skjei scratched and replaced by Ryan Lindgren, and forward Micheal Haley out while Andersson came back in up-front.
It didn’t look too dissimilar to Wednesday right away, tight and scoreless when Marc Staal took a tripping penalty at 9:10 of the first. From there, the Hurricanes took over, outshooting the Rangers 18-1 through the end of the period. But that one shot the Blueshirts did get was buried by Artemi Panarin, the sniper’s team-leading eighth of the season to improbably take a 1-0 lead into the second.
It wasn’t too different to start the second, and finally the Hurricanes tied it on their 31st shot of the night, a tip from Dougie Hamilton that beat Lundqvist high to make it 1-1.
The Rangers did settle things down a bit late in the second, and they were rewarded when Brendan Lemieux got his first goal of the season, a nice tip for a power-play goal at 18:04 that made it 2-1 going into the third. It was the Rangers’ third power-play goal in the past two games, and it gave them hope that Lundqvist could carry them to the finish.