Rangers De-Slumped; Toronto Schlumped


Attention, Rangers Fans: You can exhale now.

No longer is there a goaltending “crisis,” as if there was one in the first place.

Yes-sir-ee, the three-loss slump is over and happy days are here again.

Even Henrik Lundqvist is Smiling Hank once more after he handily defeated the Maple Leafs on center stage last night at Air Canada Centre.

“It was a big game for me,” attested The King, “and a big game for the team to respond. In this case, the win meant a little bit more.”

While New York’s 5-2 advantage won’t go down as the prelude to The Stanley Cup, it had its symbolic virtues.

Among other things, it served to show that the Blueshirts are back on track after out-dueling one of the National Hockey League’s best young teams.

His defense tightening, The King repaid the favor with a more Henrik-oriented performance, that included 23 saves and the prospect of even better things to come on Sunday afternoon in Hockeytown against the Detroit Red Wings.

OVERVIEW: The NHL’s top-draw teams endure slumps. That’s a fact of hockey life as even John Tortorella’s once-soaring Blue Jackets can attest. Which proves that the Blueshirts three-game sag did not call for a Congressional investigation. What mattered most of all — especially to the media menagerie — was Lundqvist’s ability to regain vintage form. That was abetted by a bolstered attack that now features Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, both recovered from injuries.


1. THE LUNDQVIST EFFECT: Hammerin’ Hank was more confident in this test than at any time during this tumultuous — for him — week. “Comfortable” is the best way to describe his minimal movement performance. A padded Cool Hand Luke could not have been more self-assured.

2. MERRY MICHAEL: It shouldn’t take very long for the cognoscenti to acknowledge that Michael Grabner is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate. That’s as in NHL MVP, let alone for the Blueshirts. Michel’s two-goal effort — including an empty-netter — moves his goal total up to a breathtaking 21. His first was a shorthander, plus he drew two penalties and tied for the game-high with three takeaways. Beware, Connor McDavid, beware!

3. DEE-FENSE, DEE-FENSE: Okay, the D didn’t hermetically seal the area around King Henrik’s crease but it did make it more moat-like. Really, that was a welcome change from what had been a more laissez-faire attitude during the three previous losses.

4. POINTS FOR PAV: The Blueshirts “Next Favorite Player,” Pavel Buchnevich, maintained his steady play since returning from injury. The freshman scored a goal, extending his point streak to four games (two goals, four assists). What’s more, PB has recorded a point in each of his last eight NHL games.

5. AN “A” FOR OFFENSE: No question, the Rangers forte this season has been the well-distributed offense. Against Toronto, the top three lines contributed to at least one goal. For the third straight game, the Buchnevich-Rick Nash-Zibanejad unit was dominant. J.T. Miller not only notched the game-winner but also won three of four face-offs.

TURNING POINT: Ex-Leaf Michael Grabner spanked his ex-teammates with the shorthanded tally that put the game out of reach for Toronto.

BEST SAVE: Henrik Lundqvist bailed out his mates after an egregious turnover by foiling Leo Komarov with a sprawling stop. Henny had a right to sing, “Seems Like Old Times” after that show-stopper.

BEST GOAL: Considering the doom and gloom spread by some media types heading into the Thursday night encounter, New York needed an opening goal to stop the negative bleeding. Rookie Brady Skjei’s second red light of the season was just the tonic for starters.


MSG NETWORKS’ HOST BILL PIDTO: “The Maple Leafs claimed that they really wanted to keep Grabner. Good for the Rangers that they couldn’t.”

HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “After what I’ve been through this past week I’m enjoying this a little extra. I told the boys that I want to be there for the group and make the difference when needed. Against Toronto, I was more on my toes and able to make those saves.”

MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST JOE MICHELETTI: “Henrik was good and he was there. The first save of the game gave him confidence.”

REPORTER NICHOLAS FLAHERTY: “The win speaks to the Rangers veteran experience and winning culture. However, their fate hinges on defense and goaltending. They got that at Air Canada Centre.”

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The revived Red Wings play host to the Blueshirts on Sunday. Game Time: 12:30 p.m. TV, NBC.

BOTTOM LINE: In a hostile environment, Lundqvist regained his form and the well-proportioned offense did the rest. Another win on Sunday will confirm that the worst is over.