Henrik Lundqvist was quick to call it a tough test. And, he said with a smile, a fun test.
The Carolina Hurricanes threw 47 shots at the New York Rangers goalie on Thursday, including 22 in the first period. Dougie Hamilton scored in the second period for the Canes and Sebastian Aho in the third.
But Lundqvist stopped all the rest, and from many an angle, from outside and in tight, on slapshots and tips. His season-high 45 saves were the difference as the Rangers took a 4-2 victory over the Canes at PNC Arena.
Lundqvist now has beaten the Canes 22 times in the past 26 games he has been in net against them. But no gloating or chest-thumping by the guy known as “The King” in New York.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Lundqvist said. “I think they’re a great team. They play really fast, they’re deep. They kept the puck in (the zone) so many times. They made it really difficult for us to get the puck out and get going.
“But we made some big plays at the right time. It was a fun win on the road.”
Fun for Lundqvist, but not for the Canes (9-6-1), who have lost three in a row. Not for goalie Petr Mrazek, who had won 15 consecutive games on home ice, including last season’s playoffs, but had his streak come to an end.
The first period could not have been more frustrating for Carolina. Thirteen players had shots for the Canes in the period, only to have Lundqvist remain calm and in control.
It was the first time this season the Canes had 20 or more shots in a period — the Canes also had eight attempts blocked and missed the net 14 times in the first. But they could get nothing past a goalie who now has 453 career wins and one day will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Instead, Artemi Panarin, all but unchecked in the low slot, gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead on New York’s sixth of just seven shots in the period.
“I thought we came out pretty hard,” Canes forward Warren Foegele said. “The bounces didn’t go our way, and a couple of key saves for them. We had so many Grade-A chances.”
Lundqvist stopped everything other than Hamilton’s redirection of a Jaccob Slavin shot and then Aho’s shot that glanced off a defenseman’s stick.
“I think we were the better team from start to finish and their goalie was great,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I mean, it happens.”
It happens a lot when Lundqvist faces the Canes. This time, he did it less than 24 hours after being in net as the Rangers (7-6-1) beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-1 in New York, arriving at their Raleigh hotel about 2:30 a.m.
But Lundqvist, 37, wanted the net again, and Rangers coach David Quinn let him have it. Lundqvist said he felt comfortable going a second night and has the numbers to prove it: he’s now 54-23-8 in the second games of the 85 back-to-back sets he has played in his career.
Lundqvist also said he knew what to expect from the Canes.
“They keep coming,” Lundqvist said. “They’re getting their D involved in a lot of their plays, and it makes it hard for us to defend. I thought we did a pretty good job, especially in the second and third period, to make it hard for them.”
Panarin’s goal, his eighth of the season, was a dagger in the first. So was Brendan Lemieux’s power-play goal late in the second after the Canes had tied the score 1-1 on Hamilton’s goal, the defenseman redirecting a Jaccob Slavin shot.
The Rangers converted a turnover by the Canes’ Jake Gardiner into an early third-period goal by Filip Chytil and a 3-1 lead. Aho made it one-goal game at 15:58 of the third, but Rangers defenseman Adam Fox sealed the win with an empty-netter with 1:25 left in regulation.
“We battled, hard,” Lundqvist said. “We improved after that first period. We were a little lucky being up one after the first, but then we made some corrections and special teams again were a huge part of this win.”
Forward Eetu Luostarinen made his NHL debut for the Canes, who played without center Erik Haula, out with a knee issue. Luostarinen, recalled Wednesday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, forced a first-period penalty on Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and gave the Canes some solid play in 9:21 of ice time centering the fourth line.
Brind’Amour again was left to talk about how well his team played, for the most part, without getting a good result.
“We’ve just got to play, right now, almost a perfect game, it feels like,” he said. “I’m pretty sure if we play like that we will win a lot more games.”