Ever since that fateful day — June 13, 2014 — when the Los Angeles Kings booted the Blueshirts out of the Stanley Cup Final, an extra special delight accompanies every Rangers victory over the Tinseltowners.
That exhilarating feeling was perpetuated last night at The Garden when New York’s King of the Goaltenders beat the assortment of Left Coast Monarchs, 3-2.
Apart from the revenge factor involved there was a physical test since the Visitors enjoy a big-time hitting game. That’s the kind of boffo hockey the Seventh Avenue Skaters will face in the playoffs so now is as good a time as any to experience it.
No sweat. The Blueshirts handled the big guys from the West with aplomb and appropriate sock of their own. And when all the factors were sorted out coach Alain Vigneault had to be pleased.
After all, this was the second game for his sextet in two days following the overtime win in Detroit. The three-game winning streak could easily be extended to four because of Lundqvist’s efforts.
“Hank is playing a lot better,” said A.V. “He did a good job of controlling his rebounds.”
Henrik Lundqvist talks about his improved play in the last three games, while Mats Zuccarello and Alain Vigneault echo Hank's sentiments.
With little time to inhale, the Rangers host the Broad Street Bullies tomorrow at The Garden in the second of a three-game home stand and final game before the All-Star Break.
After breaking out of their slump on Sunday night in Brooklyn, the Flyers promise to be a handful for their hosts.
OVERVIEW: Right now for the Rangers it’s all about equilibrium and momentum as the All-Star Break approaches. Add to that Lundqvist’s continued rebuilding of his confidence while awaiting injured sidekick Antti Raanta’s return from his sabbatical. Meanwhile, lesser lights such as Brandon Pirri and Matt Puempel contributed key goals.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
1. SCORE FIRST — AND SECOND: Building a two-goal cushion enabled the Rangers to make the most of their opportunism and their netminder’s return to top form.
2. UNFAZED BY THE BLITZ: Lundqvist faced an overwhelming number of shots but couldn’t have cared less. Essentially he allowed one goal. The second Kings red light with a couple of seconds left and their goalie removed hardly mattered. The King’s breakaway save on L.A. ace Jeff Carter when the score was 1-0 for New York was a difference-maker. Rangers were outshot 38-17.
3. MATS MATTERS: Arguably the best little man in the NHL, Mats Zuccarello pistoled the third — and game-winning — goal in the third period. “He plays with courage,” says MSG Networks’ Joe Micheletti, “and scores. His goal was the result of a brilliant finish.”
4. EXPLOIT A WEAK GOALIE: With the inimitable Jonathan Quick sidelined, the Kings chose Jeff Zatkoff to be the stopper. He was not very good.
TURNING POINT: While the Kings were hurling tons of rubber at Hank, the Rangers needed a respite. Zuccarello provided it with the Blueshirts third goal at a strategic time in the third period.
Al Trautwig, Glenn Healy and Steve Valiquette take a look at the 4-on-4 situation in the third period where the Rangers scored their game-winning goal.
WHAT THEY SAID
1. SAM ROSEN, MSG NETWORKS PLAY BY PLAY ANNOUNCER: “Henrik looked terrific tonight.”
2. GLENN HEALY, MSG NETWORKS ANALYST: “The Kings — who’ve had trouble scoring all season — faced the wrong goalie (Lundqvist) at the wrong time. Henrik is not done yet.”
3. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “I simplified my game. We’re a team that wins different ways. As long as we had the lead there was no need for us to take extra chances. We remembered how good the Kings are from the playoffs in 2014.”
4. JOE MICHELETTI, MSG NETWORKS ANALYST: “Ryan McDonagh had to be strong against a big, strong team and he certainly was on this night.”
5. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “Teams that are winning have a common denominator, good goaltending with timely saves. We had them against Los Angeles.”
6. MATS ZUCCARELLO: “It’s nice to score a goal so you guys (media) won’t talk about me. It was important for us to get a win since we were not playing our best. As for Hank, we’re nowhere without him. Everyone has a slump during the season. He’s the best goalie in the world.”
7. J.T. MILLER: “We found a way to win. Hank made the big saves when we needed them.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Flyers visit The Garden on Wednesday night. TV, NBCSN. Erratic though they are, the Broad Streeters always can be dangerous. Beware Brayden Schenn.
BOTTOM LINE: A win is a win is a win even if a club doesn’t play to its potential.