NEW YORK – In a goaltending duel between the experienced superstar and the untested rookie, it was the student who bested the master.
Jimmy Howard stopped 28 shots, including an incredible save on a penalty shot, to help the Red Wings outlast Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers 3-1 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
Lundqvist made 28 saves in defeat, but Dan Cleary's bad-angle goal with 2:03 left in the third period made the difference in the game. Cleary took a cross-ice pass from Henrik Zetterberg, who had two assists in the game, and slid the puck toward the net. It ricocheted through Lundqvist's legs and into the net for the winner.
"I was way out to the right and just tried to hug the post," Lundqvist said of the winning goal. "I think it got stuck underneath me and then I moved and it went in. I knew I was in trouble when I really couldn't see it in front of me. It is frustrating. It is obviously a goal I
need to stop."
"It is a bad goal," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "No one feels worse about it than Hank."
Kris Draper added an empty-net goal at 19:53 to seal it. Pavel Datsyuk also scored for the Red Wings, while Brian Boyle scored the Rangers' goal.
The 25-year-old Howard, playing in just his 24th career NHL game, improved to 8-5-1 this season. He was at his best when the Red Wings were shorthanded, including three straight times in the third period, making a lot of tough saves on shots from different directions.
"I saw most of them. The ones I didn't see I was able to just get a piece of them being out there and being on the top of the crease," said Howard. "The guys did a tremendous job on the penalty kill. We eliminated the chances and did a good job getting the puck down and clearing the zone."
Both teams were coming off games on Saturday; Detroit lost a 4-3 shootout in New Jersey to the Devils, while the Rangers held on for a 2-1 against the Sabres in Buffalo. While the Red Wings controlled the bulk of play in the first period Sunday, it was the Rangers who made the most of their best opportunity.
After a power play in which the Red Wings spent nearly the full two minutes in the offensive zone, Rangers winger Christopher Higgins bolted down the left side with the puck. He threaded a perfect pass to Boyle, who redirected it over Howard's catching glove to make it 1-0.
The Red Wings were outshooting the Rangers 11-3 up until that point, but Howard refused to become rattled with a three-time Vezina Trophy nominee staring him down on the other end of the ice.
"I thought Howie was good tonight," Babcock said. "Sometimes when you're looking down at a guy who's one of the best in the world and you're a kid, and especially when you start the game and your team outshoots them 14-5 and the first real chance goes in the net, it's tough. But Howie mentally battled and hung in and he's going to start
the next game in St. Louis."
Early in the second period with the Rangers leading 1-0, fans at MSG were treated to a penalty shot.
Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson turned the puck over at the top of the offensive zone, allowing Ryan Callahan to take off on a breakaway. But Ericsson hooked Callahan, and a penalty shot was awarded.
Callahan was calm and cool and made a great move to get Howard down, but the goaltender made a brilliant, sprawling left pad save to keep the game 1-0.
"I figured when he was going out there wide, he was going to do that little stop-back move," Howard said of the penalty shot. "When he got to the top of the crease he continued on and it was just basically desperation, get something over there, and luckily I was able to get a toe on it."
"I thought I had him," Callahan said. "I did the move the way I wanted to, but he just came up with a toe save."
Minutes later, the Red Wings finally solved Lundqvist and evened the score.
As a Red Wings power play was expiring, Zetterberg backhanded a puck on net, and Datsyuk buried the rebound just seconds after Rangers defenseman Marc Staal exited the penalty box to make it 1-1 at 11:59. Tomas Holmstrom was set up in front of Lundqvist, providing enough of a distraction to help Datsyuk net his seventh of the season.
About a minute later, Howard again rose to the occasion, stopping Higgins on a breakaway with 7 minutes left in the period.
Halfway through the third period, Avery missed a golden chance to put the Rangers ahead 2-1 on the power play. He took a pass at the far post with Howard out of position, but the puck bounced harmlessly off his stick and not into the gaping net.
"I didn't see it till it got to my feet, then I just didn't bear down," Avery said. "It's kind of a theme around here, us not bearing down. We got to start for sure."
Avery got into a shoving match with Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi before a faceoff at one point during the game, and the Rangers pesky winger revealed what set off the mini-fracas.
"He said I wasn't going to get a Christmas present," according to Avery.
While Avery may be the gift that keeps on giving, the Rangers missed out on a chance to earn a point against one of the NHL's better teams while playing a solid game for the second night in a row. The point, no pun intended, wasn't lost on Tortorella.
"Well … we can say it is unfair, whatever. We just came away empty," Tortorella said. "You just want to get something out of it, at least a point out of it, but we didn't. We just have to fight through it."
Contact Dave Lozo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.