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Lundqvist and kid D-men shut down Canucks

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- When a goaltender makes 31 saves to shut out the NHL's best team, it usually doesn't take very long for someone to ask his coach about the performance.

Especially in a 1-0 game where every save is necessary, it's the first or second question asked.  But after Henrik Lundqvist picked up his League-leading sixth shutout in the New York Rangers' 1-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks, he was virtually an afterthought while coach John Tortorella held court in the bowels of Madison Square Garden.

Lundqvist made 11 of his saves in the third period, including one from close range with two seconds remaining against Henrik Sedin. The special performance came two nights after he allowed a soft goal early in the third period that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

While Lundqvist's dominance would be the talk of the locker room for most other goaltenders, it's reached the point where it's commonplace in New York.

"He played really good late there. He made some big saves in the third period," Tortorella said. "It's a good game for him to bounce back. I think he was a little irritated on the goal against Montreal. But he had some fight to him. Especially at the end -- there was a couple of close-in chances that he made some great saves on to secure the win."

Even with the softie in the Canadiens game, Lundqvist has been sensational the past two games. He's stopped 67 of 69 shots, and he's done it playing behind what is now the youngest group of defenseman in the League.

After the Rangers traded 32-year-old Michal Rozsival to the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday, 27-year-old Steve Eminger became the elder statesman on the blue line. All-Star Marc Staal, 24, and Dan Girardi, 26, are the team's undisputed top D-pair. It gets younger from there, with Matt Gilroy, 26, Michael Sauer, 23, and 21-year-old Ryan McDonagh and his four games of NHL experience rounding out the corps.

"We're pretty young. We're bugging Emmy now. He's the oldest guy here. He's a big wily veteran," Staal said. "We're a confident group. I think we're all going to learn each day and keep getting better and just try to do our best job to defend the right way."

They were supposed to be overmatched against the deep, high-powered Canucks. Instead, they did an excellent job of limiting the quality chances of a team that was 14-0-3 heading into the game.

The Canucks' top line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows were held to a combined six shots. They were up against the Rangers' line of Brian Boyle, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust all night, but the defensive pair in their face was always Staal and Girardi.

"It's a group that continues to improve," Tortorella said. "All of them contributed. Danny and Marc get a lot of the credit because they're the top line, but they have a pretty good unit right on through their team. So all our guys had to play against pretty good players."

McDonagh was understandably the defenseman who saw the least action against the Canucks -- just 11:44 of ice time -- but Tortorella was happy with what he saw.

"I'm watching McDonagh very closely, just to see what his mindset is in a game like this," Tortorella said. "Especially for a young guy like that, I wanted to see how he played. He had the right type of strut, as far as closing the neutral zone off."

The shutout came with two rewards -- one for the fans and one for the team.

Lundqvist threw his stick into the stands after he took his twirl at center ice for being named first star, saying the raucous crowd of 18,200 earned the reward. He will also do what he does after every shutout -- raffle off a bottle of wine to one of his teammates who helped make the shutout possible.

It's a potentially pretty nice reward for a group of guys who haven't been legally able to purchase alcohol for all that long.

"They're playing well. They're playing confident," Lundqvist said. "They play with a lot of speed. They're good skaters. It helps the way they skate and move the puck. I think everybody looks confident out there."

There will likely be some bumps along the road with such a young group. But if they continue to play like they did Tuesday, perhaps shutouts like this one will be even more ho-hum as time passes.

The reward, however, will never cease to be satisfying.

"I guess we get a few more bottles of wine," Staal said. "I'm pretty happy about that."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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