Wednesday, March 23, 2011

King Henrik blanks Panthers for league best 10th shutout

The King delivered. Sometimes, if you work hard enough, you reach your goals. Prior to this season, Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist had one individual task in mind in addition to backstopping the Original Six club back to the playoffs. Last night, he attained one of those goals by turning aside all 22 Panther shots in a 1-0 home win for his league best 10th shutout. It's the second time in his career King Henrik's hit 10 in a season, making it the first year since '07-08.

I feel great,” Lundqvist said after his 34th career shutout in only his sixth season. “I don’t think my body felt this great in a lot of years.”
Even with the recently turned 29 year-old Swede having to start almost every game down the stretch minus vet backup Martin Biron, it was just his 60th appearance (59th start) yesterday. The former 2000 seventh round steal has won seven of eight, including a season high five-game win streak that's seen him post a 1.97 GAA with a .932 save percentage- pushing him into Vezina contention with frontrunner Tim Thomas, Carey Price, Pekka Rinne and Marc-Andre Fleury.

“I keep reminding myself every day that last year was one point. I don’t want to be there and I don’t think anyone else wants to be there. This is a game that could be the difference.”

Even though the Rangers controlled much of the game against a team they have trouble with, they still found themselves locked in a scoreless tie after 40 minutes due to Tomas Vokoun, who made 26 of a game high 32 saves during the first two periods. Instead of getting frustrated, they finally solved the much overlooked veteran thanks to persistence from their hottest line with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky combining on the winner. After a near miss, Dubinsky tapped home a Callahan pass for his 22nd with 12:11 remaining.

"This was a good test for us—a playoff-type game that you have to grind away,” the club's leading scorer noted.
“We feel like we are a line that needs to produce and put up points for us to be successful,” Callahan added of the chemistry the reunited Draft Line (Anisimov-Dubinsky-Callahan) have. Lately, they've been the difference during a run of seven wins in their last eight, boosting their postseason aspirations. With both the eighth Sabres and ninth Hurricanes also winning, the seventh seeded Blueshirts have 84 points with eight games left. Three better than Buffalo (9 GR) and six clear of Carolina (9 GR). Toronto kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a 3-0 shutout over Minnesota but trail us by eight and the Sabres by five with eight left. With the Devils falling in Boston 4-1, they've dropped three of four and are on the brink, nine behind Buffalo and technically trailing Atlanta for 11th due to one more game played.

Crazy as it may sound, the hot streak has the Rangers just three off sixth Montreal who were blanked by Ryan Miller 2-zip on a pair of Nathan Gerbe markers. Both Original Sixes have eight games to go but the Habs own the season series (3-1-0) and probably have the edge in the new tiebreaker excluding shootouts. The Lightning sit fifth with 89 after falling to the Islanders 5-2 highlighted by 36 saves from Al Montoya and rookie goal leader Michael Grabner's 31st (ENG).

The hot play couldn't have come at a better time for a club that has given fans plenty to cheer about. When you put out a consistent effort, you deserve to make it. The journey is far from over with the pesky Senators paying MSG a visit tomorrow. All Ottawa's done is essentially knock out the Devils with two backbreaking stunners in which each goalie (Craig Anderson and Curtis McElhinney) took turns stifling them. Jason Spezza's playing his best hockey of the season and Erik Karlsson's been on fire. By no means will it be easy. Especially if McElhinney continues his strong play in net.

The Rangers are aiming for six straight and five overall at MSG. We'll see if they can keep it going.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (game-winning goal-22nd at 7:49 of 3rd)
2nd Star-Tomas Vokoun, Fla (32 saves incl. 17/17 in 2nd)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (22 saves for season best 10th SHO-34th career)

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