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Hank keeps Rangers in it, Kreider delivers 2-1 win vs. Blues

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Henrik Lundqvist's (l.) stellar play in goal makes a game of it before the Rangers edge past the Blues.Billy Hurst/AP

Henrik Lundqvist’s (l.) stellar play in goal makes a game of it before the Rangers edge past the Blues.

ST. LOUIS – The Rangers didn’t deserve to beat the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, but Henrik Lundqvist wouldn’t let his team come away with a loss. He was magnificent in a 2-1 victory, just as he was in Tuesday night’s defeat to the Devils in Newark.

The King is back to willing his teammates to wins, motivated by the elusive Stanley Cup, and the need to be his sharpest with the postseason just 21 games away.

“I can feel the pressure is coming,” Lundqvist said after dazzling with 35 saves, many on high-quality Blues chances off mistakes by several unprepared Rangers skaters. “We’re getting closer and closer. It’s tight in the standings. You need to make the most of every game here. You can’t take anything for granted, and that’s why I’m trying to prepare like it’s the playoffs right now.”

Chris Kreider turned around a miserable night by scoring the game-winning goal on a wrist shot 4:18 into the third period at Scottrade Center off a skillful backhand feed from Oscar Lindberg. But Kreider and the line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and J.T. Miller had terrible efforts for the Rangers (35-20-6, 76 points).

“I don’t know about an extra special feeling personally,” Kreider said of his first goal in nine games after Vigneault demoted him to the third line in the final period. “I think as a group we’re happy to have pulled that one out considering … how they pretty much outplayed us most of the night.”

Brassard and Zuccarello, once a dynamic duo, suddenly are a liability in their last three games together, on Jan. 24 in Ottawa, Feb. 18 in Toronto and Thursday night. Tanner Glass’ first-period deflection goal didn’t hold up because the Blues (35-19-9, 79 points) dominated the second period and tied it on a Troy Brouwer power play goal after Kevin Klein turned the puck over and lost a battle in front.

Derek Stepan skates under pressure from Paul Stastny.Billy Hurst/AP

Derek Stepan skates under pressure from Paul Stastny.

The Blues’ momentum crested in the early third, but Lundqvist bailed out Miller’s unreal turnover in front with a right pad save on Dmitrij Jaskin at 3:02. He then saved captain Ryan McDonagh from an offensive zone giveaway by denying Scottie Upshall’s breakaway at 4:07.

“In the third period, (the big mistakes were) the pull-and-drag by Mac at their blue line and J.T., we’ve seen a couple of those,” Vigneault said, calling out two of his top players.

When Kreider scored on Blues backup Jake Allen (21 saves), St. Louis held an eye-opening 32-15 shot advantage, but the Rangers had the lead. Meanwhile, in McDonagh’s and Marc Staal’s returns from injury, Lundqvist became the first goaltender in NHL history with at least 30 wins in 10 of his first 11 NHL seasons.

That wasn’t even accomplished by the great Martin Brodeur, who watched from his perch as Blues assistant GM on Thursday.

“When Hank’s playing like that, we feel like we can beat anyone,” Staal said. “That’s why he’s our best player, and on nights like this, you get a win where maybe you shouldn’t have.”

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