DALLAS — Henrik Lundqvist bubbled with enthusiasm about his teammates’ effort in Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars because their sacrifice, hustle and level of play all rose to match his own.
“There are no passengers,” Lundqvist said after making 36 saves in the Rangers’ final game prior to Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline. “Everybody’s working extremely hard for the group right now. I love the way we’ve been playing the last two games, the way we’ve been competing. It really gets me going, too. I get excited to play when I see the guys play that hard for the group.”
Mats Zuccarello blocked Valeri Nichushkin’s point-blank wrist shot with 1:03 remaining with a body part that Lundqvist described wryly as “either the belly or somewhere near the belly.” Zuccarello left in serious pain after bailing out Derick Brassard (assist) following his consecutive turnovers, but the team said Zuccarello was OK.
Jesper Fast was Alain Vigneault’s “courageous Swede,” playing with a full caged mask after an errant puck broke his nose in Friday’s practice. Fast intercepted Jamie Oleksiak’s clearing attempt to feed Derek Stepan, who beautifully set up Kevin Klein’s game-winning goal at 17:07 of the third. “The guy is playing at an unreal level right now,” captain Ryan McDonagh said.
Fast has stitches covering the inside of his rearranged left nostril and hadn’t slept much because his nose had bled throughout the night.
Kevin Klein and Henrik Lundqvist join forces to help keep the Stars offense in check.
“I’ve felt better,” Fast said, forcing a grin, “but I just tried to do my job, do my best.”
Chris Kreider (power play goal) and Keith Yandle (assist) had strong outings. Klein answered Nichushkin’s game-tying goal just 68 seconds earlier with his second game-winning tally in the last four games.
The Rangers (36-20-6, 78 points), though, might have been most excited about McDonagh’s return to form in just his second game back from a stretch in which he missed six of eight games due to two separate head shots that resulted in a concussion, a jaw contusion, and neck spasms. “Definitely a lot better,” said McDonagh, who wore the Broadway Hat after scoring a goal and saving a goal in a span of 64 seconds midway through the third period. “(In Thursday’s 2-1 win) in St. Louis I was a little bit hesitant on what’s my next play. Today I was moving well, moving the puck well, on the rush, had chances.
“I was trying to get more shots down near the net and moving around in the offensive zone,” added McDonagh, who made smart breakups all night playing alongside a struggling Dan Girardi victimized on both Dallas goals. “We spent a lot of time in our own zone, too, but we held strong and didn’t give their top line too many Grade-A looks, I thought.”
The Rangers get a key road win on Saturday afternoon in Dallas.
Stepan called the line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza for the Western Conference-leading Stars (38-19-6, 82 points) “maybe the hardest line I’ve had to play against in the league.” But that trio managed only a Seguin assist and a controversial non-goal on a Spezza rebound in the third.
McDonagh dropped to the ice behind Lundqvist to stop the puck and conceal definitive evidence that it had crossed the goal line (the call was upheld on review).
The Rangers gave up no power plays for the fourth time all season, and they wore helmet decals with the initials “AB” inside the team shield to honor Andy Bathgate, the Hall of Famer who died at 83 Friday.
Watching from above was Carolina Hurricanes scout Joe Nieuwendyk, a reminder that Rangers GM Jeff Gorton could be tempted to trade for ’Canes captain Eric Staal prior to Monday’s deadline. “Every year something happens. That’s been the case for 10 years,” Lundqvist said. “I love the group. I do. It’s a great group of guys that work really hard and (has) a great attitude, but I know this management group is doing everything every year to make sure we have the best chance possible to make it all the way in the playoffs.”
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