NEW YORK -- One-hundred ninety feet away from one of the most epic comebacks in New York Rangers’ regular season history, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stood and watched from his crease in awe. After allowing two goals in the first period and another in the second, which put the Rangers in a 3-0 hole in a game they had to win, Lundqvist couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Neither could 18,200 other witnesses on Monday night inside Madison Square Garden.
But somehow, someway the Rangers came from behind, scoring five straight goals -- including three in the final 3:48 of the third period -- to complete one of the most improbable, incomprehensible victories in their 85-year existence.
“It felt like it went from end-of-the-season excitement to playoff excitement,” said Lundqvist, who made 27 saves in New York’s 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins, which brought its magic number to reach the playoffs down to three. “That’s what it felt like. You could almost touch it. It was amazing. You don’t get to feel that a lot during the regular season. But going down the stretch, it’s so important. That’s what you play for.”
Lundqvist made 17 of his stops during a first period in which the sluggish Rangers were outplayed and outhearted by the Bruins. By the time the buzzer sounded, they trailed 2-0.
But it could’ve been worse. Much worse, if not for The King.
“I was dying. I was so tired after the first,” said Lundqvist, who started his 24th consecutive game. “It was so hot in here. “I was so tired the whole second. But I felt good in the third.”
The Rangers (43-32-5) fell behind by three goals when Chris Kelly moved in on a 2-on-1 and beat Lundqvist five-hole with 9:28 remaining in the second period. All of a sudden, their season was on the brink.
But just like head coach John Tortorella has said all season, his team has “guts.”
They never give up. They never surrender. They never say die.
“We could’ve just laid down and died after they scored that third one,” Lundqvist said. “It felt like a killer, but we responded in a big way when we needed it the most.”
Vinny Prospal scored two goals to bring the Rangers within just one heading into the third. It was a 3-2 hockey game until Brandon Dubinsky electrified the crowd with a garbage goal out in front at 16:12. And just 51 seconds later, Michael Sauer sent the entire building into a state of euphoria when he tallied from the bottom of the right circle to put the Blueshirts ahead to stay. An empty-netter by Derek Stepan with 53 seconds sealed it.
“It’s amazing to see how the guys just kept working,” Lundqvist said. “Our thirds have been big for us all season. We believe in each other. We believe we can do it.”
Lundqvist (35-26-5 overall, 10-3-1 with a 2.05 goals-against, .933 save percentage in his last 14 starts) didn’t make 45 saves or add to his NHL-leading shutout total of 11, but he kept his team in the game. And that’s all anyone could ask of him.
“He gave us a chance,” Tortorella said. “They were shooting pucks from everywhere [in the first period], going to the net. We looked sluggish there for the first 20 [minutes], and then we got going. Like I said before, I think Hank is playing at the highest level I’ve seen him play at. He’s gonna have to continue that. This is it. This is the responsibility that players have to have. When you show us you can play this way, you have to continue doing it.”
All of a sudden, the Rangers need three points in their last two games to atone for last season’s playoff-less failure.
Time and time again Lundqvist has come up in the clutch for the Rangers. But this time it was he who watched from 190 feet away -- at the other end of the ice -- as his teammates worked their magic.
“This is the look we have on this team,” Lundqvist said. “We never give up. We work hard. Some teams will out-skill us. But we hope they don’t outwork us.”