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Rangers' ugly win is beautiful to Henrik Lundqvist

Goaltender looks like old self in shutout of Red Wings

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- The pass zipped from the end boards into the slot for Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg in the third period of a scoreless game. New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist slid from his left to right, thinking Zetterberg would try to score stick side.

Zetterberg one-timed the puck high off his mask instead. It ricocheted off the King's crown and out of play.

"It was nice," Lundqvist said.


Yes, nice.

This season has caused headaches for Lundqvist, but not this save, if you could call it that, and not this game, a grind one player joked was a big line-change drill. Lundqvist did a 360-degree twirl while Zetterberg bit into his mouth guard and stared into space.

Video: NYR@DET: Lundqvist makes incredible save with mask

When forward J.T. Miller scored 1:56 into overtime, the Rangers had a 1-0 win at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday. Lundqvist had 21 saves, back-to-back wins and his second shutout of the season. They'll take them.

"When you get hit in the head in a game, you hardly feel it," Lundqvist said. "You have so much adrenaline, and you just have to make a save. In practice, it hurts."

Once upon a time, a 1-0 shutout was nothing special for "The King." The Rangers won with a shot-blocking identity and Lundqvist was one of the best goaltenders in the game, if not the best. But the Rangers win with an offensive approach now, and Lundqvist, 34, has looked, well, um, gasp, mortal. He has a .904 save percentage. His previous NHL low: .912 in 2007-08, his third season. He hasn't been below .920 since 2008-09.

The Rangers have played high-event, high-scoring hockey lately. Lundqvist allowed 16 goals during three consecutive losses. But then came a 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, and then came this.

"Why was this game so …" a reporter started to ask, searching for the right word.

"Ugly?" center Derek Stepan offered with a laugh. "Is that what you're going for?"

Video: NYR@DET: Lundqvist earns shutout in 1-0 win

Respecting the Rangers' speed and offensive ability, the Red Wings clogged the middle. Adapting to Detroit's style and poor ice conditions, the Rangers clogged the middle too. It's no wonder no one broke through until it opened up in 3-on-3 in OT. The shots were 21-19 for Detroit.

"A lot of times you've got to play the game that's in front of you, and tonight the game in front of us was, there was no room, no space, tough to make any passes, put a couple passes together," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "It makes for a game where both teams are getting to the red line, dumping it in, and there's not a lot of rush opportunities and flow to the game."

But this was good for the Rangers and for Lundqvist. Sometimes you have to win ugly, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To a goaltender, ugly can be beautiful, especially when you're trying to turn things around.

"It's a long season," Lundqvist said. "You have to be able to win games in different ways. You're not going to score a lot of goals all the time. I think I prefer these types of games. Maybe a little more scoring chances, just to make it a little fun for the crowd."

He laughed.

"But to play as a goalie with structure in front of you … there's going to be breakdowns and mistakes, but it's definitely easier to focus on your game and try to be solid when you have that support in front of you," he said.

Video: NYR@DET: Lundqvist makes save on point-blank shot

Lundqvist has gone through what so many goaltenders have: doubts, trying to do too much, more doubts, trying to do too much even more often, a vicious cycle. So he has gone back to basics, trying to keep it simple, trying to stay patient.

"I've changed a little bit my mindset and tried to be a little bit better, but I think the biggest change is just the way we play in front of me with the structure and not giving up the big chances right in front," Lundqvist said. "It makes a big difference for me, obviously. It's easier to be patient when I know we're right there to put pressure on a shooter. Guys are good here [in the NHL], so if a shooter gets a lot of time and space with no pressure, it's going to be tough to stop it sometimes."

It also helps when a shooter is alone in front, he fires it off your mask.

"I know I can be better, and the last two, with the help from the guys, I feel like I've been better," Lundqvist said. "When guys play like this, it's definitely easier for me to reach my level and gain confidence."

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