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Recap: Lundqvist Blanks Wings as Blueshirts Sweep

'Save After Save' as Rangers Take Both Ends of Home-and-Home

by Michael Obernauer

DETROIT -- Emerging from the All-Star break to face a home-and-home series against an Original Six rival, David Quinn turned in the opener to a goaltender with three NHL games under his belt, then in the finale to one with 882.

The rookie, Igor Shesterkin, was superb on Friday night in picking up his third win in his fourth career start. One night later, the veteran, Henrik Lundqvist, was flawless.

Taking his first post-All-Star-break start, Lundqvist turned aside all 33 Red Wings shots he saw on Saturday night for the 64th shutout of his spectacular career, carrying the Blueshirts to a 1-0 win over the Wings and a sweep of their two-day, two-city series with Detroit to start the unofficial second half of 2019-20.

Mika Zibanejad scored the only goal the Rangers would wind up needing on this night, cashing in a first-period power play and locking up his third straight 20-goal season, and the fifth of his career. His score came 12:13 into the game, on a play set up by Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome, grabbing the Rangers a lead that Lundqvist and Co. would carry through the remaining 47:47 to secure their fourth win out of the last six games, with a four-game Garden homestand on deck. 

Once the final horn had sounded -- just after Lundqvist had made his last of many saves on Dylan Larkin and Patrik Nemeth -- the goaltender punched the air with his blocker hand as his teammates poured off the bench to reach him, then was wearing a big broad smile in the visitors' dressing room afterward.

"For me personally, I'm not going to lie, it feels really good to come back and play well," Lundqvist said after the 459th victory of his career. "In the end, you want to be out there and help the team. So it's a good feeling to have a good game."

That good feeling was everywhere. "He was unbelievable, right from the start," said Zibanejad. "That's what we're used to. It was nice to get that win and see him happy after the game."

In addition to the happiness, there seemed to be a healthy dose of relief, too, when it came to the outlook for Kreider. The winger left the game just 1:42 into the second after losing an edge and then taking an accidental shot to the side of the head as Zibanejad was doing everything he could to avoid him. Quinn said afterward that the Rangers consider Kreider "day-to-day," and that it doesn't appear at this point to be any kind of long-term concern.

Before that happened, it was Kreider who made the play to redirect Strome's shot-pass onto Jonathan Bernier's goal, producing the rebound that Zibanejad was able to squeeze through the Red Wing goaltender, extending his point streak to three games, with six points in those three.

It all occurred on a power play that was the direct result of the physical game Jacob Trouba played from start to finish on a night that was, predictably, more physical than the teams' opener on Friday night. Trouba's hard and clean shoulder into Christoffer Ehn at the red line provoked a response, for the second straight night after a clean hit, from Justin Abdelkader, who once again received the lone minor of the exchange and, also for the second straight night, was sitting in the box watching Zibanejad score.

"When you go back-to-back -- it's the National Hockey League, I don't care about people's records, it's the National Hockey League," Quinn said after his Rangers sent the Wings to their eighth straight defeat. "They're good players over there and they competed hard and we all we knew it was going to be a very difficult night for us, and it was. But obviously we got great goaltending from Hank."

"Some unbelievable saves," as Zibanejad described it, "save after save" -- 11 of them in each period, with five of them on the night coming against Larkin, the Red Wings' leading scorer. It's likely none was bigger than the stop he made in the final 10 seconds of the middle period, when a turnover set up Larkin in behind the defense and alone against Lundqvist, who went for a poke check but wound up smothering the shot with his left skate instead.

"He faked and I kind of went down, so I kicked out my leg and I think I kicked it with my skate. And after that I was swimming so I don't know happened," Lundqvist said with a laugh. "I just knew I prevented him from going around me -- that was my only option there because I was down early. And then I don't know what happened after that. I was just trying to make sure it didn't go in."

It didn't, and the sounds that followed were Larkin banging his stick against the corner glass in frustration, followed by the horn that sent the Rangers into second intermission still holding their lead. From there, "I liked our third period," Quinn said, and his team improved to 18-1-2 when leading after 40 minutes.

The Rangers' sweep of this home-and-home also gave them a sweep of the three-game season series with the Red Wings, for the first time since 2013-14. Lundqvist earned the first win and the last, in the end stopping 88 of 89 Detroit shots this season.

All of which is pretty much par for the course with Lundqvist, who has his best career numbers against the Red Wings -- a 1.86 GAA and .941 save percentage. That .941 actually went up three points with this shutout, and is the best of any goalie in NHL history who has faced Detroit 10 times or more.

"It's been a few of those in this building, for whatever reason -- hard-fought games, and as a goalie you enjoy it," said Lundqvist, whose 883rd NHL game moved him past John Vanbiesbrouck in ninth place all-time among goaltenders. "You enjoy it when every save matters and you don't know if one goal is going to be enough to win the game. So I kind of put that pressure on myself, especially in the last period, to try not to make any mistakes. And it worked out."

It got the Rangers off to a good start in a historically busy February, through which they will have 15 games and play at least every other day -- including Garden visits from the Stars, Leafs, Sabres and Kings in the upcoming week. "We've got to take advantage of home ice," Zibanejad said.

"We have a great opportunity now coming out of this break with two wins," he added. "These were important games for us."

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