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Rangers leave Florida on a high note

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's 40 saves earned him his fourth career shutout against the Florida Panthers. Lundqvist's shutout was also his third of the season and 27th of his NHL career.

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After surrendering five goals through the first two periods on Wednesday night in Tampa, Henrik Lundqvist was approached by Rangers head coach John Tortorella and asked if he wanted to come out of the game. Lundqvist was adamant about remaining in the contest, looking to finish on a strong note that he could hopefully carry into his next start.

Lundqvist executed that plan to perfection, stopping all nine shots he faced in the third period of Wednesday’s 5-3 loss, and then used it as a springboard to an outstanding 40-save effort on Friday night, when the Rangers defeated the Florida Panthers 3-0 at the BankAtlantic Center.

“We need him tonight and I think he played very well,” Tortorella said of Lundqvist. “I think we are a tired team from the number of games and travel we’ve gone through. So it was certainly important the way Hank played tonight.”

The shutout was the third this season for Lundqvist, who now has 27 in his career. It was the fourth time that Lundqvist has blanked the Panthers, who had a goal disallowed with 9:28 remaining in the third period because of a hand-pass on the play.

“It’s a big relief for me because I want to help the team get wins,” said Lundqvist. “When I am not winning or playing well it bothers me a lot. Winning and playing well makes me feel a lot better that’s for sure. This was a great road win for us.”

Sharp from the first drop of the puck on Friday, Lundqvist confidently stopped all 15 shots he faced in the first period, including four by Panthers defenseman Dennis Wideman. Not only was Lundqvist good in the opening stanza, he was a bit lucky, too, when Shawn Matthias slid a shot off the post behind the Rangers goaltender.

“You could tell in that first period, it just didn’t look like he was going to let one in,” said Tortorella. “He looked that solid.”

Building upon the solid foundation he established in the first period, Lundqvist stopped all nine shots the Panthers fired at him in the second period, giving him 24 saves through the game’s first 40 minutes. His biggest stop in that time came 4:40 into the second when he stretched out his legs as far as he could to rob Mike Santorelli with his left pad on 2-on-1 shorthanded rush.

Rangers rookie forward Derek Stepan continued his remarkable offensive surge by getting the eventual game-winning goal to run his scoring streak to six games. Among NHL rookies, only Carolina's Jeff Skinner has more points than Stepan this season.
While that save on Santorelli was a fantastic highlight-reel stop, what was most impressive about Lundqvist’s game on Friday was that he was so consistently well-positioned that he did not require many acrobatic saves.

“It was a fun game, a lot of action,” said Lundqvist. “You know, they’re a good team. They work hard. They might not have the biggest stars, but they are really a hard-working team. They really gave us a tough time all night.”

Despite being outshot 15-5 in the opening period the Rangers scored the only goal of the session to secure a 1-0 advantage they carried all the way into the third period.

After killing off Sean Avery’s double minor for high-sticking, the Rangers struck for an extremely opportunistic goal. An interception in their own end led to a rush up ice where Marc Staal fed Avery, just out of the penalty box, flying down right wing. Avery hammered a hard shot on net that was kicked out by Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen. But Derek Stepan was right there to collect the rebound and fire it into the back of the cage for his sixth goal, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 10:06 of the first.

The goal, Stepan’s second in as many games, gave the rookie center points in six consecutive games. Stepan now has 14 points, three behind Carolina’s Jeff Skinner for the league-lead in scoring among first-year players.

The Rangers held on to that lead behind the strong play of Lundqvist and a stout performance by the club’s penalty killing unit, which finished the night a perfect 5-for-5 after surrendering three power play goals to the Lightning on Wednesday.

“It’s a long season and different things happen, so we just tried to put (Wednesday) night out of our minds,” said Brian Boyle. “There was nothing we could do about it once the game was over, but the only thing we could do was bounce back. And I think we did a pretty good job on the PK tonight.”

Several minutes after killing off another penalty early in the third period, the Rangers were able to score a power-play goal of their own at 5:24 to double their advantage over the Panthers. Ryan Callahan, with is back to the net, redirected Erik Christensen’s pass in the high slot past Clemmensen for his sixth goal, an extremely critical one at that.

The Rangers, who were 1-for-2 with the man-advantage in Florida, have now scored at least one power-play goal in a season-best four consecutive games.

Brandon Prust iced the game by scoring his first goal of the season -- a shorthanded tally -- with 5:35 remaining.

The strong special teams play, along with Lundqvist’s superb play in goal, provided for a feel-good bounce-back win just two nights after starting this current road trip with a tough loss. The Rangers have now won three of their last four games and six-of-nine heading into the finale of the road trip Saturday night in Nashville against the Predators.
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