RALEIGH, N.C. -- David Quinn wasn't tipping his hand to anybody, but even before he walked out of Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night with two points in his pocket and a stout performance from his No. 1 goaltender in the books, he knew that in less than 24 hours, when the puck would drop on a new game in a new city, he would be going right back to Henrik Lundqvist.
When all was said and done and Quinn was getting ready to stroll out of PNC Arena, he didn't require many words to sum up how his decision turned out.
"It's a pretty simple answer to what happened tonight," the Head Coach said. "Our goalie was unbelievable."
On a short turnaround and under siege from early on, Lundqvist was nothing short of spectacular in the Rangers' nets, making 45 saves to carry his team to a 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and the Blueshirts' fourth victory in their last five games.
Lundqvist stopped 22 shots in a fire drill of first period -- just one shy of his career high for single frame -- and finished the evening only five saves short of his career high.
"That was a Hall of Fame, MVP performance by him and he's the reason we got two points," said Ryan Strome. "We'll take two points however we can get them, and that's probably one of Hank's all-time wins there. That was a big one for him."
In short, the Rangers' goaltender was magnificent, and the rest of the Rangers opportunistic. Artemi Panarin scored in the final half-minute of the first, stretching his points streak to seven games and sending the visitors to their dressing room with a lead by larceny, and after Carolina had scratched and clawed to tie the game, Brendan Lemieux scored an enormous tiebreaking goal -- on a power play drawn by Kaapo Kakko -- late in the second.
Pavel Buchnevich padded the lead early in the third with his fourth point of the back-to-back set, and "a goal that completely changes the game," in Strome's words. It turned out to be the game-winner, made certain by an empty-netter from Adam Fox, whom the Ranges acquired from Carolina back on April 30 and who scored his second goal of his rookie season.
"We got it done. Hank helped," Lemieux said with a wry smile forming. "Obviously. He stood on his head for us out there."
Indeed the night -- ultimately the two nights -- belonged to Lundqvist. In the space of about 26 hours, the goaltender saw 83 pucks shot on his goal and stopped 80 of them, collecting wins over the Red Wings and Hurricanes to push his career total to 453.
It was the 85th time in his legendary career that he has started both ends of a back-to-back; he improved to 54-23-8 with a 2.12 goals-against and .928 save percentage in the second leg of them. He also continued his mastery of the Hurricanes, against whom he is a career 31-12-1.
He was asked immediately afterward how much he had left in the tank at that moment. "Not much, to be honest," he replied.
"You get into a flow where it almost feels like an extension of the last game," he said. "I feel pretty comfortable when it's a back-to-back situation because I just rely on what I did last night and try to carry over."
Quinn was banking on that, because he said he had decided early on Wednesday that unless something unexpected occurred against Detroit, Lundqvist was going to get both games. "That's what I wanted to do," the Head Coach said. "I want him to get into a rhythm, and our schedule has been a little bit quirky so he hasn't had a chance to get into a rhythm. I was very confident, very comfortable playing him tonight."
His comfort in the rest of the game, though, was being tested while the Hurricanes built a 22-6 shots advantage in the first period. And yet it was the Rangers who scored the period's only goal, when Strome wheeled behind the Carolina goal line to hit Panarin cutting through the slot for a one-timer.
"We talked about it before the game, actually, how we should hang around the middle a little bit more," Strome said. "But good players find a way to get open and it only takes a split second. And what a shot -- right off his stick before anyone can react."
It was Panarin's team-leading eighth goal, and it gave the Rangers an improbable lead after a period in which they had two early penalties to kill, and in which Strome and Panarin were part of a group that was marooned on the ice for a shift lasting well over two minutes.
"The first five minutes we're okay, it was actually an even period," Quinn said, "and then we took those two penalties and the whole momentum just shifted and we were just hanging on for dear life. To come out of that period 1-0 was unbelievable in a lot of ways."
"The second period was a more even period," Quinn said, but still Carolina drew even at 14:32, on their 31st shot of the game, a quirky goal in which Dougie Hamilton, a defenseman, flashed across the slot to redirect a blue-line drive from his partner, Jaccob Slavin.
But the Rangers, approaching their sixth period of hockey in those 26 hours, never faded. Just three minutes after Hamilton's goal, Kakko skated a puck into the slot and was tripped by Brett Pesce, setting up the power play on which Tony DeAngelo wristed one for Lemieux to deflect past Petr Mrazek, Lemieux's first of the season, just 1:56 before second intermission.
Then just 1:15 after the break, Buchnevich stripped Jake Gardiner of the puck in the Carolina end and went the long way around Mrazek and through a net-crashing Filip Chytil for a two-goal edge. Sebastian Aho gave the Canes life with 4:02 left when his heave from off the right wall clipped a Ranger stick on its way in -- the only two shots to beat Lundqvist were deflected -- but with Mrazek on the bench for an extra skater, Fox short-circuited the drama with 1:25 to play.
The goal gave Fox points in three straight and five of his last seven games, and came on a night when he once again logged a career high in ice time (20:39) and played on a pair with Ryan Lindgren that Quinn called "our best pair all night. They answered the bell a lot of ways."
The victory will add a little more enjoyment to the special weekend the Rangers have planned, beginning with an outdoor practice at Lasker Rink in Central Park on Saturday, followed by Kids' Day at the Garden, a Sunday matinee against the Florida Panthers in which the Rangers will be looking to make it five wins out of six after grabbing this road victory on Thursday night.
"It was just one of those nights where I was doing a lot of good things, but I also got some good bounces," Lundqvist said. "When I break down my game, I feel like I'm in the right place right now, where I can help the team."