In what came down to a duel between two of the NHL’s elite goalies, New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist proved to be one save better than Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.
Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced through overtime, and four of five in the shootout to secure a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat 1-0 win over the Sabres on Wednesday night.
Miller nearly matched him, stopping all 29 shots he faced through overtime before allowing two shootout goals in a game in which both goalies earned shutouts.
The save-after-save fest was finally decided in the fifth round of the shootout, when New York captain Ryan Callahan drove in on Miller, faked right and then snapped a shot into the open left side.
Lundqvist was elated.
”To win in a shootout and not give up any goals, obviously it’s a good goalie game,” Lundqvist said. ”I’ll take that any day.”
Or nearly every day, given how well Lundqvist has been playing.
It was Lundqvist’s first start since allowing three goals on 12 shots for Team Alfredsson in the first period of the NHL All-Star game at Ottawa on Sunday. And he picked up right from where he left off after entering the break with a 22-save 3-0 shutout victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 24.
Lundqvist has three shutouts in his last five starts, and allowed five goals on 152 shots he’s faced over that stretch. The shutout was the 41st of Lundqvist’s career, which moves him into second on the team’s all-time list — one ahead of Dave Kerr and eight behind Ed Giacomin.
”I don’t think he’s been at this level. He’s improved this year,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said, after exchanging a fist pump with Lundqvist in the locker room. ”If you want to get to where you want to be, you need goaltending like that. He’s certainly provided that.”
Miller couldn’t complain.
”It was fun to be a part of. I haven’t had too many good outings in the last few months,” Miller said. ”To go up against Lundqvist, who’s having a great season, and have a night like this, where it kind of puts us in the spotlight at each end, it’s nice to be a part of.
Despite the loss, Miller is showing signs of regaining his groove. After struggling for much of the season, the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner is 2-0-1 over his past three starts, a stretch in which he’s allowed just two goals.
The only disappointment for Miller, who earned his 24th career shutout, was being denied an opportunity to set the Sabres’ franchise record for victories. Miller is stuck on 234 wins, tied with Dominik Hasek.
Marian Gaborik beat Miller in the first round of the shootout, while Sabres captain Jason Pominville tied it by beating Lundqvist on the stick side in the third round.
Otherwise, both goalies were unbeatable.
Lundqvist’s best saves in regulation came with 1:09 left in the third period, when he kicked aside two shots from Brad Boyes, who had found himself alone atop the crease during a power play.
He then robbed Boyes again in the second shootout round. Driving to the net, Boyes faked left and caught Lundqvist leaning, before shifting to his right in an attempt to stuff the puck into the open side. Lundqvist, however, recovered in time by reaching back with his glove to block the shot.
Coming off a 4-3 shootout loss at New Jersey, the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers (32-12-5) avoided going winless in back-to-back games – something they’ve not done since a two-game skid in the middle of December.
Miller’s best save came less than 2 minutes into the second period when he got his right pad out to stop Callahan, who was set up by Brad Richards’ blind backhand pass through the middle for a one-timer in the left circle. A few minutes later, Carl Hagelin was set up on the fly in front only to have Miller get enough of the puck to deflect it over the net.
The Sabres were playing their first game at home following seven straight on the road. Buffalo, which lost the first five of those road games before beating New Jersey and Montreal, squandered a chance to win three straight for the first time since a four-game win streak in early November.
”I don’t think we need to get the microscope out and start being too negative,” Miller said. ”There were a lot of good things tonight.”
Notes: The Sabres power play when 0 for 5, including just one shot during a two-man advantage spanning 42 seconds in the first period. Buffalo has now scored three times on 32 power-play chances over its past 13 games. . . . The Rangers have now allowed just two goals on their opponents’ past 40 power-play chances over a 16-game stretch. . . . Much of the game was officiated with one referee and two linesman after referee Kelly Sutherland was struck in the face by a deflected shot 5:37 in and did not return. Sutherland kept his feet and didn’t appear to be cut, but was woozy as he was escorted off the ice. . . . The Sabres play nine of their next 13 games at home.