RALEIGH, N.C. - As Henrik Lundqvist recounted his 48-save performance in the wake of the New York Rangers' 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, his train of thought came to an abrupt halt.
Then he chuckled to himself and told the media, "I'm just so tired I don't know what to say right now. Short answers today."
Lundqvist deserved a deep breath after stopping a game-long barrage of Carolina shots on Saturday night at PNC Arena. After a 2-1 shootout loss Friday night in Pittsburgh, the Rangers (19-15-4) spent their energy completely as Lundqvist turned in one of his best performances.
Thanks to second-period goals by Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash, the New York goaltender played with a cushion; he needed it, particularly in the third period when the Hurricanes peppered him with 21 shots.
"With our energy level the way it was tonight, we needed him to do that," said center Brad Richards, who set up the first goal. "Who knows where we would have been without him. That's why we're happy to have him."
Stepan buried Richards' feed on the power play 2:00 into the second period, and Nash needed just 29 seconds to pick the pocket of Carolina goalie Dan Ellis behind the net and set up Callahan in front for the 2-0 lead.
For the Hurricanes, mired in an ugly 1-10-1 stretch, it could have spelled the beginning of a long night.
"They're a team looking for their confidence," Lundqvist said. "When we got a couple quick ones there, their energy went down a little bit."
Nash extended the lead to 3-0 on a nice individual effort, skating the puck across the slot, then wheeling around to fire a shot past Ellis. It marked the second power-play goal of the night for the Rangers and fifth in their past three games.
"I think we're getting shots to the net, taking the initial shot," Nash said. "We're hunting down pucks and it seems to be clicking."
Despite the big lead, the Rangers were never off the hook in the third period. The wear and tear of back-to-back games showed as Lundqvist fought off numerous bids from the Hurricanes, most of them in scoring position. In one stretch, he stopped Jordan Staal, Joe Corvo and Zac Dalpe, all from the slot. Dalpe's shot, snatched away with Lundqvist's glove, might have been the best of the night.
"I think the key for me today is I was patient," Lundqvist said . "I was waiting for the shots. Obviously as the game moved on I gained some confidence, knowing I could play my game and wait for the puck. I did that most of the game tonight."
The performance left Rangers coach John Tortorella reaching for the superlatives.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here," Tortorella said. “He certainly finds a way to get us a win tonight. His competitiveness is one of the endearing traits about him. I’ve never seen anybody prepare like he does and compete as hard as he does all the time. He stole us one."
Rangers forward Ryane Clowe, acquired Tuesday from San Jose, has played just three games in front of Lundqvist. After watching the Rangers star allow just one regulation goal in each game, he sounded a bit star struck.
"To see him up close, to see him battle and see how competitive he is, it's a real treat," Clowe said. "He's a special goalie. He was unreal tonight. Obviously, we gave him a bit too much action tonight."
Not that Lundqvist minded. In fact, he seemed happy to carry the load for a night, perhaps because he has a new-found enthusiasm for the Rangers' team chemistry. The recent acquisitions of Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore from Columbus, along with Clowe, have invigorated Lundqvist.
"It's a different atmosphere in the room," he said. "Not only did we get some really skilled players, but it changed the dynamic of the room. It's just a lot better feeling in here. It looks like the lines are working better together. We're going to need it."
Carolina, meanwhile, is trapped in a nightmare stretch drive. Once 15-9-1 and in control of the Southeast Division, the Hurricanes have fallen into 13th place in the Eastern Conference at 16-19-2. Despite the woes, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller has been mostly positive after the last several losses, noting that his team played with plenty of resolve.
"I know I sound like a broken record," Muller said. "I just don't remember a time where we had a tough time getting points. We played hard. We played with a lot of enthusiasm tonight and we played some good hockey."
Aside from the Rangers' strong second period, Muller's point was well-taken. The Hurricanes carried the play for extended stretches, only to be shut down by Lundqvist.
"They had a lot of speed," Lundqvist said. "And they had so many scoring chances that if they got a goal early, they could definitely turn the game around."
The Hurricanes finally broke the shutout bid midway through the third period on a goal from Dalpe, who was recalled from the Charlotte Checkers earlier in the day.
"They get the goal to make it 3-1, and that gave them energy and momentum and hope, and we got back on our heels," Richards said. "Then [Lundqvist] had to hold us in there."
Rangers center Brian Boyle, who added an empty-netter in the final second, agreed.
"They played well, even though they haven't necessarily had the results they wanted," he said. "They were home and fighting for the lives. We knew they would come and they came hard. We weathered the storm a little bit."