NEW YORK, N.Y. – Henrik Lundqvist took a ride up to the New York Rangers’ practice rink on Tuesday morning, thinking he would have that night off when the Winnipeg Jets came to town.
A bout with the flu for backup Martin Biron changed all that for New York’s all-star goalie. Instead of resting during the last game before the break, Lundqvist went out and put up the 40th shutout of his stellar NHL career.
Lundqvist made 22 saves in his surprise start, and Ryan Callahan, John Mitchell and Brad Richards provided the offence in the Rangers’ 3-0 victory over the Jets on Tuesday night. Lundqvist (22-10-4) made his fifth consecutive start for the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers, his busiest stretch since he played in New York’s first six games.
“Four games in a row,” said Lundqvist, who was surprised when told it was actually five.
He sarcastically added that he is “pretty banged up” before giving a true assessment.
“I feel great,” Lundqvist said. “When you’re winning, you’re more relaxed and you don’t use as much energy between games.
“I had to change a little bit. In my head I was kind of relaxed. I was thinking a little bit about all-star, I’m not going to lie. That’s what you do when you don’t play. You try to get away from the game.”
The Rangers won their second straight, following up on an overtime victory Saturday at Boston — the team that trails them by two points in the East. New York had alternated wins and losses the previous six games.
Facing Winnipeg, a team the Rangers had already beaten twice this season, they wanted to make sure there was no letdown before the upcoming six-day rest period.
“It just shows the maturity of the team,” captain Callahan said. “We concentrated on this game. These two points are just as important as they were against Boston. We came out, played the game we wanted to.”
Biron allowed only one goal in beating the Jets in New York’s two previous meetings, and Lundqvist picked up where he left off — earning his fifth shutout of the season.
Winnipeg, which lost 2-1 at Carolina on Monday, was outshot 31-22 and fell to 0-8 in the second of back-to-back games. The Jets have been outscored 33-5 in those losses.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. “We came out with a pretty spirited effort. We were battling, did a lot of good things. It’s not the easiest thing. One of the top teams in the league was sitting there waiting for us.”
Callahan gave the Rangers a 1-0 just 4:05 in when he got to a rebound of defenceman Anton Stralman’s shot and slammed it into the wide-open left side of the net for his 17th. He has three goals and two assists in his last four games.
Winnipeg didn’t have much jump in the first period, when it was outshot 11-6, and rarely had control of the puck. The Jets picked up the pace in the second, landing several heavy hits, but still generated only six more shots — none of which seriously threatened Lundqvist.
The Jets’ best scoring chance came with 4:36 left when Blake Wheeler tried to jam a shot in, but was stuffed by the post as Lundqvist spread out his pads. The puck skimmed through the crease, and was nearly deflected in by Lundqvist, but he lifted his right leg just in time — allowing the puck to slide by and out of danger.
“I almost thought that he scored,” Lundqvist said. “I was lucky. I felt like I had a little extra luck. Some nights you just have the bounces on your side, I guess.”
Just two minutes earlier, Mitchell stretched the Rangers’ lead to 2-0 with his fifth of the season and third in five games. Michael Del Zotto sent a pass across the Winnipeg zone and hit Mitchell in stride in the middle of the left circle for a hard snap shot that appeared to tick goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s glove on its way to the top right corner at 13:22.
Richards pushed the lead to 3-0 with 3:38 left in the game, scoring his 16th this season and first in eight games.
The low shot total was out of character for the Jets, who had outshot opponents in each of the previous five games — averaging 32.5 per contest.
When Winnipeg put pressure on Lundqvist, he was up to the task. Less than three minutes into the third period, Tanner Glass had a chance from point-blank range near the right post, but Lundqvist got over and stopped the drive with his pad and covered the puck.
“They are a top team,” said Winnipeg’s Chris Thorburn, who fought Mike Rupp twice. “They play well defensively and they block a lot of shots. It’s almost like you’ve got to do double the work to get the same amount of shots.
“Lundqvist made a couple of good saves, and so did Pav. Our goalie kept us in it and their goalie kept us out of it.”
NOTES: The Rangers recalled G Chad Johnson from Connecticut of the AHL to back up Lundqvist. … Jets C Evander Kane, who missed his third game because of a concussion, was placed on the injured list. Winnipeg recalled F Aaron Gagnon from St. John’s of the AHL. … The Rangers went 0 for 4 on the power play and are 3 for 42 on the advantage the past 17 games. … Winnipeg has killed 20 of 21 power plays the past eight games.