Henrik Lundqvist was back to form in his return, and what looked like a potential controversy in goal could prove to be a strength for a New York Rangers team that’s played with more consistency over the past week.
Lundqvist seems likely to start again as the Rangers visit the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Lundqvist made 37 saves and stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period to lift the Rangers to their third win in four games Sunday, 4-3 at Tampa. New York’s star goaltender had backed up Cam Talbot in the previous three games and hadn’t played since Dec. 20, due in part to the Christmas break.
"He played a real strong game, gave us a chance to win, especially in the third when they had a real strong push and they were tough to handle," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He had some huge saves to make, and he did."
Lundqvist’s 2.78 goals-against average is half a goal higher than his career mark, but he performed like the player that compelled New York to give him a seven-year contract extension Dec. 4.
Talbot’s outstanding play and Lundqvist’s struggles have raised questions as to whether the team had made a mistake, but Sunday’s performance showed that Lundqvist is still capable of carrying New York (19-19-2) when necessary.
It could also mean that the club has two goalies that give it a chance to be competitive in every game.
"I know this is a process. It’s not going to turn around in one game, but I have to take it 20 minutes at a time and just try to do as good as possible and take it from there," said Lundqvist, who has a 3.68 GAA in his last eight starts.
The Rangers went 3 for 3 on the power play Sunday, leaving them at 8 for 23 (34.8 percent) in the past six games. Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists while Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot also scored.
New York is 1-1-0 on its five-game road trip as it gets set to face a Panthers team that ended a three-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over Montreal on Sunday. Brian Campbell, Aleksander Barkov and Dmitry Kulikov scored and Scott Clemmensen stopped 21 shots for Florida (15-20-5), which had dropped the first two on a five-game homestand.
Despite the skid, the Panthers are 8-4-0 in their past 12 games.
"We gotta string together as many (wins) as we can get here, so hopefully we can get a good start going and finish it off with a couple more at home here," Campbell said.
The Panthers, one of the worst defensive teams in the league, allowed 15 goals during the losing streak.
The Rangers have taken advantage of those struggles this season, totaling nine goals in winning the first two meetings and defeating Florida 5-2 at Sunrise in the most recent one Nov. 27. Lundqvist made 31 saves and has gone 6-3-0 with a 1.57 GAA in his last nine starts in the series.
New York has taken six of the last eight matchups and five of six at Florida.
Zuccarello has four goals and two assists in a four-game point streak against Florida over the past two seasons. Pouliot has recorded four goals and three assists during a seven-game overall point streak, while Brad Richards has five goals and five assists in his past eight versus the Panthers.
Barkov, a rookie center, has three goals and five assists in the last nine contests.
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal is expected to return after missing 10 games due to a concussion.