Henrik Lundqvist stars as Rangers even series with Penguins

Lundqvist made 29 saves and the Rangers took advantage of some sloppy defensive play by Pittsburgh in a 4-2 victory on Saturday that evened their series at 1-1.

PITTSBURGH — Three days before Game 2 Henrik Lundqvist briefly wondered whether he had a serious injury.

He was back in the Rangers’ net for his 112th straight playoff start on Saturday afternoon, turning aside 29 shots in New York’s 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, tying the best-of-seven series 1-1.

It was the 55th playoff victory for the 34 year old, putting him in sole possession of 15th on the all-time list, passing Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk.

“Anybody that’s been around Hank knows that he’s an elite goaltender and he’s a big-game goaltender,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the win.

Lundqvist was struck near the right eye by the blade of teammate Marc Staal‘s stick late in the first period of Wednesday’s Game 1 loss, a scary play that had the goaltender writhing in pain. He conceded to “some really bad thoughts” in that immediate aftermath, relieved to discover a day later that no damage was done.

“Right after I left the doctor’s office I was starting to prepare for this game and it was an important one,” Lundqvist said.

He was at his best early for the Rangers and again late.

Still hot off a Game 1 victory, Pittsburgh came out gunning in the first period, Lundqvist turning down two nifty setups from Evgeni Malkin, one on Kris Letang, the other on Patric Hornqvist with Pittsburgh on a power play.

New York took control of the game with an avalanche of three goals in about four minutes late in the second period.

Lundqvist was sharp again just before the onslaught. He made a potential game-changing right pad stop on Chris Kunitz just before Keith Yandle scored the first of two in 18 seconds for the Rangers. Then, moments after Derick Brassard added the second goal, Lundqvist stopped Bryan Rust on a breakaway.

“Every save matters,” Lundqvist said. “For a goalie that’s what you have to tell yourself going into a game, especially in the playoffs. Because every save can turn a game and obviously it was a big moment in the game, I’m just happy I came up with the save.”

Mats Zuccarello scored just over one minute after the stop on Rust, the recipient of one of three assists by J.T. Miller. Miller, who set career highs with 22 goals and 43 points in the regular season, hails from East Palestine, Ohio, less than a hour’s drive from Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.

He matched a career high with the three-assist day. His feed to Zuccarello, on what proved to be the winner, may have been the sharpest.

Holding the puck deep along the wall in the Pittsburgh zone, Miller first edged to the point with the puck, fooling Phil Kessel on the defence. He then rocketed the pass left to right and through the slot to the Rangers’ diminutive Norwegian winger.

“Last five minutes of the second period we lose focus and they score three goals,” Malkin said. “It’s playoffs. You need to play right all 60 minutes.”

Malkin, who was held without a shot and took no faceoffs, hadn’t played since March 11 because of an upper-body injury, returning one week ahead of schedule.

Pittsburgh was still without No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the 31 year old still sidelined by a concussion that’s kept him out since March 31.

The Rangers extended their lead to three at 4-1 with another quick strike 39 seconds into the third, this time from Chris Kreider, who took advantage of a Trevor Daley giveaway just outside the Penguins crease.

Daley’s passing attempt bounced off Kreider before the American winger promptly beat Penguins third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff.

More ordinary in his Game 2 performance, following a stunning 35-save effort in Game 1, Zatkoff surrendered four goals on 28 shots.

“I felt comfortable in there,” he said. “Obviously I would have liked to make a couple more saves for sure, at least one more just to keep it a one-goal game. It’s tough to come back from 4-1.”

Lundqvist had to stand tall again in the third as the Penguins rallied feistily in front of their home crowd. Only Kessel managed to beat Lundqvist, landing his second of the day and second on the power play early in the third.

Lundqvist was perfect with 26 even-strength saves.

“I thought Lundqvist played great,” Zatkoff said. “He made more saves than me tonight.”

Beyond Lundqvist and Miller, the Rangers were also helped by a big day from Brassard, who added two assists to go along with his go-ahead second-period goal.

New York managed to even the series, too, despite playing without two of its top-four defencemen, captain Ryan McDonagh and veteran Dan Girardi both out with injuries. The Rangers dressed two rookies on defence in Dylan Mcllrath and Brady Skjei, both players faring just fine in the win.

“There’s no doubt that as a group tonight we needed to respond and play better than we did last game and to play better than we did last game and I thought we did that,” Vigneault said.

Game 3 takes place Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

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