But after 19 straight starts and a pair of key games upcoming next week against the New York Islanders, it was time for Lundqvist to take a break. Valiquette had a rough beginning Saturday before turning it around and helping the Rangers to a 3-2 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues.
"It would've been easy to go with Henrik the rest of the way," said the 29-year-old Valiquette, a career minor leaguer with only 11 NHL games on his resume. "The team put a lot of faith and trust in me to get the job done because every game for us is critical."
The move by coach Tom Renney seemed misguided when Brad Boyes scored a soft goal just 1:35 in on St. Louis' first shot.
"It got me angry and pumped up at the same time," Valiquette said after his second game this season. "I could've slumped at the bench but I worked so hard to get here. I said, 'I am, going to fight back and pull out this game.'
"It's a good thing I was able to get over that because I was obviously nervous to start."
He stopped 19 shots over the final two periods of regulation and overtime. They he turned away Glen Metropolit in the first extra round of the shootout to earn his first NHL win since March 27, 2004.
Valiquette was chosen in the eighth round of the 1996 draft and has been with five NHL organizations. He even spent last season in Russia.
"It seemed like a lot longer," he said of his previous win. "I went a long way away from the NHL ... and didn't know if I was ever going to make it back."
Karel Rachunek had a goal and assisted on Sean Avery's tying tally with 2:53 left in the third. Michael Nylander, Jaromir Jagr, and Marcel Hossa scored against Curtis Sanford in the shootout for the Rangers, 11th in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers reversed a recent trend of blowing leads by erasing a 2-0 deficit in the final 8:46 of regulation. Rachunek was the first to solve Curtis Sanford when his shot from the middle of the left circle found the top left corner.
Rachunek set up Avery 3:29 later for a drive from the slot that beat Sanford high. New York had squandered 2-0 leads in the third period four times in the previous 12 games.
"We've got a lot of good experience with that," Hossa said. "Before the last period we decided to ourselves that we had to come out strong and go for it."
Sanford was sharp for the third straight game in place of injured starter Manny Legace but faltered late.
"We didn't make the saves that we needed to," Sanford said. "We may not have been intense enough. What can we say? We lost an extra point."
Jagr kept the Rangers alive in the shootout by scoring on a move in which he carried to the crease and tucked the puck inside the post. It was his first tiebreaker goal in five tries this season.
He took lots of criticism for sitting out a shootout loss to New Jersey before making a failed attempt in another shootout defeat against Pittsburgh on Thursday.
"I wanted to do the same thing, but I didn't want to look like a fool twice so I decided to do something else," Jagr said.
Hossa put New York ahead in the shootout, and Valiquette sealed the win against Metropolit. Quite a finish after he allowed Boyes' quick strike and Radek Dvorak's first tally in 15 games.
Renney considered going with Lundqvist in the shootout but decided Valiquette deserved the chance to go the distance.
"You build resiliency and resolve by experiences like that," Renney said. "Certainly Steve had a tough first shot but he hung in there and he got bigger and bigger as the game went on."
Beforehand, the Rangers honored former player and longtime broadcaster John Davidson, who moved on to become the president of the Blues before this season. The Blues, winners of three of the previous four, hadn't played the Rangers in New York since Nov. 3, 2002. They are 10-44-6-1 in 61 games at Madison Square Garden.
Boyes gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead when he surprised Valiquette with a shot from the bottom of the right circle. Dvorak scored his first goal in 15 games when he quickly converted Jamal Mayers' pass from behind the net, making it 2-0 with 2:36 remaining in the period.
Notes: Rangers LW Martin Straka took part in the warmup but sat out for a third straight game (shoulder). ... Pat Dapuzzo worked his 1,500th NHL game as a linesman. ... Metropolit assisted on Dvorak's goal for his first point since being acquired by St. Louis from Atlanta last weekend. ... Lundqvist's streak was the longest for the Rangers since Davidson made 24 straight starts from Feb. 7-March 27, 1976.
|Brad Boyes (14) ASST: Petr Cajanek (28)|
1 - 0 STL
|Radek Dvorak (8) ASST: Jamal Mayers (10), Glen Metropolit (17)|
2 - 0 STL
|PPG - Karel Rachunek (5) ASST: Paul Mara (16), Jarkko Immonen (5)|
2 - 1 STL
|Sean Avery (12) ASST: Karel Rachunek (19)|
2 - 2 Tie
|1||M. Nylander||L. Stempniak|
|2||P. Prucha||D. Weight|
|3||J. Jagr||B. Boyes|
|4||M. Hossa||G. Metropolit|
|Ville Nieminen Hooking against Matt Cullen|
|Matt Cullen Interference against Ryan Johnson|
|Sean Avery Cross checking against David Backes|
|David Backes Too many men/ice - bench|
|Brad Isbister Hooking|
|Radek Dvorak Tripping against Sean Avery|
|Christian Backman Interference against Petr Prucha|
|Dan Girardi Interference|