All is well in the realm of The King, Henrik Lundqvist.
Having endured a four-game sabbatical, the Rangers franchise player took center stage last night at American Airlines Center in Dallas with the spotlight unusually bright on his visage.
There were good reasons for the pregame headlines and better reasons for concern before the opening face-off.
After all, four matchups with a healthy King on the bench was unusual, to say the least. And, Henrik’s earlier contests had left some cause for doubt.
Before being advised of his rest and rehabilitation, Lundqvist had an uncharacteristic 3-4-1 record over his previous eight starts. The 34-year-old puck-stopper entered the Dallas game with a 2.55 goals against average and .912 save percentage, also un-Lundqvist-like.
With something substantive to prove, Lundqvist led his Blueshirts to a scintillating 2-0 triumph and the theme song,” Happy Days Are Here Again!”
One of the vocalists had to be Rick Nash, who returned from injury with an appropriate flourish and tallied the winning goal — shorthanded, no less — early in the third period.
Next stop on Saturday in Nashville could make it two in a row for The King. Hey, maybe even another goose egg.
OVERVIEW: With Lundqvist back on track and Nash returned to the lineup, the majestic script couldn’t have been more dramatic. Not only did Henrik blank the Stars, but he survived a goalmouth collision during the first period by Cody Eakin.
He took a breather and then returned later in the period to finish his masterpiece. Most meaningful, he kept his players in the game until Nash supplied the third-period winner.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
1. PUNCTURING THE PRESSURE: The onus was on Lundqvist to demonstrate that the pressure that had been building upon him not only could be handled, but defused in a game that remained zip-zip through the seven-minute mark of the final period. It was a classic example of a clutch performer living up to his legend.
2. REDOUBTABLE RICK: The pervasive feeling in Rangerville has been that if the club could maintain a semblance of stability during its injury plague, that good things would happen when an ace such as Nash would return. The result last night in Dallas — decided by his shorthander — was as if the missing piece was placed into the puzzle.
3. CRUCIAL CUSHION: A final threat to Lundqvist’s shutout arrived when Stars coach Lindy Ruff pulled his goalie for an extra skater. Not only did the Blueshirts repulse the threat, but Mats Zuccarello provided the second goal, alias the cushion that secured the victory.
1. SURVIVING THE CREASE-WHACK: When Lundqvist was temporarily removed from the game, it reminded some observers of last season’s playoff episode. In Game One against Pittsburgh, Henrik took a stick in the eye, was removed and then returned to action after which the Blueshirts lost the game. Not this time. He came back to play flawlessly enough to gain two points.
2. DECODING THE DEADLOCK: Any hockey savant knows that when a game is 0-0 in the third period, a bad bounce here or there could kill a good team’s chance to win. But Nash erased that threat with his shorthanded goal that could not have come at a more timely moment.
THE ONCE LIST:
1. ONCE IN A LIFETIME: This marked the first time in the Rangers 90-year history that two goalies appeared in one game and combined to post a shutout. Thanks, of course, to Antti Raanta who came in to relieve and did just that.
2. NOT ONCE THIS SEASON: So far in 2016-17, the Rangers have not been held pointless in two consecutive games. And, that is one reason why the club has sustained its position atop a crowded Eastern Conference.
3. NOT ONCE A POWER PLAY GOAL AGAINST: The New Yorker’s penalty-killers batted a thousand; knocking off five Dallas PPs out of five. Just for the record, this is no accident. The Blueshirts have not allowed a power play goal against in 16 of the last 21 games.
1. HIT THE NET: The Rangers power play struggled (0-3). Among other things, it couldn’t capitalize on a five-minute major and a long five-on-three.
2. STAY OUT OF THE BOX: Alain Vigneault‘s skaters survived, despite taking too many needless penalties on careless plays.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING:
1. RICK NASH: “I don’t want to say we expect such a performance from Hank (Lundqvist), but he’s our best player and one of the best players in the world. I’m not surprised he came back with such an effort.”
2. REPORTER NICHOLAS FLAHERTY: “The result symbolizes the Rangers ability to remain a contender. They know how to dig deep and find ways to win. When Lundqvist is on his game, they are a very difficult team to beat.”
The Rangers are back in action Saturday when they battle the Predators in Nashville. Coverage begins at 8 PM on MSG2.