Ex-Ranger Brad Richards celebrates his game-tying goal with 32 seconds to play in Detroit.
DETROIT — Henrik Lundqvist threw himself into the fire Saturday afternoon, brilliantly battled a blaze of Red Wings charging his crease, and even surprised himself with his excellence in return from injury.
But the King was seething at his locker afterward anyway, lamenting a 3-2 overtime loss in which he made 40 saves but lost two leads behind an overwhelmed defense. Ex-teammate Brad Richards dramatically tied the game at 19:28 of regulation, and then Darren Helm tipped in his second for the game-winner at 3:03 of OT.
The raucous Joe Louis Arena crowd thundered through the game’s pulsating final 23 minutes. The Blueshirts (39-22-7, 85 points) got the best out of their best player but let a second point slip away.
“It’s very disappointing to lose this one,” said Lundqvist, who started with 15 dazzling first-period saves despite missing the previous three games with neck spasms. “It was a pretty intense game for me to play, but it was a good first game. Physically I felt really good. It was challenging to feel good, but it was a busy first. I got a lot of action there. I felt like I was playing my game.”
Chris Kreider (goal, assist), Derek Stepan (goal), Mats Zuccarello (two assists) and Keith Yandle (assist) drove the offense, culminating in Kreider’s power play tip-in at 15:33 of the third for a 2-1 lead to answer Helm’s game-tying goal at 4:28 off a fluke dump-in. The wild-card Red Wings (34-23-11, 79 points) then did what they do best: They won the pivotal battles at the Rangers’ net.
The Red Wings peppered enough pucks at Henrik Lundqvist to earn the OT win.
Ryan McDonagh and Viktor Stalberg nearly put the game away, just missing the vacated Detroit goal by inches in the final two minutes of the third, down 6-on-4 with Eric Staal off with a holding penalty and Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (23 saves) pulled for the extra attacker.
Henrik Zetterberg then jammed a wrist shot into Justin Abdelkader at the crease, bouncing the puck to a charging Richards on the doorstep.
Lundqvist stopped blistering Wings rookie Dylan Larkin on an OT breakaway, but Helm got free of Yandle in front to deflect Pavel Datsyuk’s wrist shot through. Once again the Rangers were bombarded and hemmed in their own zone with a late lead in the third period instead of attacking up ice.
“We were competing hard in our end and trying to be desperate. We were just giving them way too much,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was on ice for Richards’ goal. “We weren’t very good in our end. They were getting too many chances, too many shots. It’s something we’ve got to figure out.”
Stepan didn’t mince words, either.
Rick Nash also makes his return from an injury layoff in Saturday’s matinee in Detroit.
“We have to learn how to play in the third with the lead, and it’s a certain way,” the center said. “You’re not playing risky but you’re playing assertive and you’re trying to play down in their end. I felt like in parts of the third we sat back.”
Rick Nash at least was heavily involved in his first match back after being sidelined 20 games by a nastier-than-anticipated left leg bone bruise. He, Eric Staal and Stalberg did not account for a point as a line, but Nash defended ferociously, attacked Justin Abdelkader with a cross-check to the face to protect Lundqvist and got in Larkin’s grill.
“I was trying to find that competitiveness again,” Nash said. “It was 7½-8 weeks, whatever it was, that’s a long time to miss. So I’m gonna have to work extra hard at finding all aspects of the game. … It felt like my hands were about a second behind what my mind’s thinking and what I want to do.”
Coach Alain Vigngeault said he was hopeful top scorer Derick Brassard (flu), who stayed back in New York, would play in Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. Garden start against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lundqvist will start again and get a chance at redemption. Still, that didn’t make Saturday’s loss any easier to take.
“It’s weird because it’s only been over a week (that I’ve been out) but it feels longer,” Lundqvist said. “I had one practice with the team so I was a little concerned, but I felt like I played my game. It’s just tough to come up short like this when you’re that close.”