-- Martin Biron
couldn't have dreamed of ever getting two starts in a row when he signed with the New York Rangers
this past summer. At least not while Henrik Lundqvist
, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist who hadn't played less than 70 games since 2006-07, was healthy and had directions to the arena.
But some poor play of late from Lundqvist has led to more playing time for Biron, who continued to make the most of it against the Calgary Flames
on Monday night.
Biron stopped 31 shots, including all 15 he faced in the third period, to lift the Rangers to a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden. It marked Biron's second straight victory in as many starts. The 33-year-old is now 5-2-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .917 save percentage this season.
"I feel really comfortable," Biron said. "It's about getting the work in at practice. A few weeks ago, we started the bike program and that gets me working after the games that I don't play. It gets my legs and lungs going. It keeps me performing at my peak."
Monday's appearance was actually Biron's third straight. He relieved Lundqvist during the Rangers' 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.
Lundqvist will start the Rangers' next game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, but Biron has become the safety net coach John Tortorella lacked last season, when he just wasn't comfortable turning to Steven Valiquette, Chad Johnson
, Matt Zaba or late-season acquisition Alex Auld.
"Marty played a strong game, especially in the third period," Tortorella said. "In the third period he stood in there strong."
The strongest save came off a great chance by Flames captain Jarome Iginla
, who scored his 450th career goal in the second period to tie the score at 1-1. Iginla failed to tie the game, however, after Matt Stajan
found Iginla at the front of the net. Biron rose to the occasion and slammed the door on the future Hall-of-Famer.
Iginla now has six goals in his past three games, but he failed to capitalize when it mattered most in the third period.
"He has been really hot as of late and he scored tonight," said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi
, who had the game-winning goal and an assist in the second period. "It is all about taking time and space away. Just being hard on him all night is just the way you have to play him. He is a great player so it is going to be hard to keep him off the score sheet, but Marty bailed us out when he had to."
Girardi's power-play goal at 12:41 came after the Flames' Curtis Glencross
took a high-sticking penalty against the Rangers' Ryan Callahan
. Glencross, who was as despondent as a player could be after the game, said Callahan backed into him and he didn't intend to hit him with his stick.
After a scoreless first period, the Rangers (12-9-1) capitalized on a bad line change by the Flames (8-11-1) to strike early in the second.
Girardi picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and fired a long pass to Brian Boyle
, who had a 2-on-0 with Ruslan Fedotenko
. Boyle tried to slip a pass to Fedotenko at the left post, but Flames defenseman Brendan Mikkelson
back-checked hard and dove to deflect the pass.
Unfortunately for the Flames, he redirected the pass into his own net. Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff
, who made 22 saves, couldn't get his pad on the bad bounce.
"I'll take it," Boyle said of his career-high ninth goal of the season, "but I was in pain though. I got hit right between the legs right before that. I felt good about it, but I didn't feel that good about it."
Despite the Flames and Rangers rarely getting to see each other, the game was as physical as one between two division rivals.
Rangers defenseman Mike Sauer hit the Flames' Stefan Meyer
from behind during the first period to earn a boarding penalty. That led to a pair of fights for Sauer later in the period, one with Tom Kostopoulos
and another with Meyer.
"We're a very desperate hockey club and a gritty team. That's kind of the way we play," Iginla said of the physical game. "If it was 2-1 the other way, it's a fun game to be part of. It was a solid road game but you got to win games you got to get results. You give them credit that they did what they had to do to win a 2-1, tight, physical game."
Midway through the third period, with the Rangers protecting their 2-1 lead, Marc Staal
delivered a devastating open-ice hit on Stajan, who had just passed the puck as he skated across the Rangers blue line. Stajan was helped from the ice and did not return to the game.
The hit didn't draw a penalty of any kind for Staal, who thought it was clean.
"I saw him with his head down, came across and I finished my check," Staal said. "I don't think it was dirty. I haven't seen the replay yet or anything, but it seemed like a clean hit."
Stajan wasn't available after the game, but Iginla, who was on the ice when the hit happened, wasn't sure if the shot deserved a penalty.
"It was up the ice. I don't know if it was late or not," Iginla said. "When you see a teammate get hit like that, whether it's clean or not, you want to respond as a team and stick together."
The Flames opened their locker room to the media about 10 minutes after the Rangers opened theirs. Coach Brent Sutter didn't answer questions afterward. Instead it was assistant coach Dave Lowry who faced the media.
"I give the Rangers a lot of credit. They came out and made a real good push early on," Lowry said, referring to the Rangers' 8-1 lead in shots in the first period. "We battled back, but we made a couple mistakes tonight and the result was a pucks ended up in our net."
While the Flames lost for the fifth time in six games, it was the Rangers' fifth victory in their last seven contests. Entering the season, Lundqvist said on several occasions that the reason the Rangers missed the playoffs by one point last season was due to games where the Rangers let wins slip away.
An inter-conference matchup against the 14th-place team in the West might've been a recipe for disaster last season. But on Wednesday, the Rangers buckled down in the third period and didn't let a one-goal lead vanish.
"Hank's right in that we had a lot of games where we lost it or we'd lost it in overtime," Staal said. "We went into the third period and confident and we know how to play defensively and play well enough to close out a win. So far we've been doing that pretty well."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo