New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK -- If the New York Rangers go anywhere in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, it will be because goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played well enough to hide his team's defensive flaws.
Lundqvist's performance against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night was a shining example of just that.
The potential Vezina Trophy finalist stopped 39 shots -- including 30 over the final two periods -- as the Rangers took another step toward a postseason berth with a 5-2 victory that moved them four points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan.
Center Derek Stepan had a goal and two assists and the Rangers scored a pair of power-play goals, but it was Lundqvist shouldering the burden and buying time for the team to find insurance goals in the third period.
The Rangers (42-24-8) have 92 points and appear to be locked into a playoff spot with eight games remaining.
"There's only eight games to go and I think everybody is excited," Lundqvist said. "This is a great time of year. We are getting closer and closer to the first step of many goals that you set going into the season. You want to make sure you are playing as well as you can and then you see what the result will be moving forward after that."
The Rangers are 3-1-1 in their past five games and took control against the Bruins with two power-play goals in the first period.
Right winger Mats Zuccarello and center Derek Stepan scored three minutes apart to make it 2-0. Both goals were the result of gorgeous passes from defenseman Keith Yandle, who found Zuccarello with a sharp pass near the right post and dished to Stepan for a tap-in goal after scorching Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara on the rush.
"He understands the importance of passing on the power play and I think that's something he's so good at," Stepan said. "When he makes a pass, it's right on the tape and it's to a guy that's in a scoring area. That's something that isn't easy and he's able to do it really well."
Those goals came against goaltender Tuukka Rask, who left the game after the first period due to an illness. He was replaced by Jonas Gustavsson, who stopped 13 of 15 shots over the final two periods.
Brassard greeted Gustavsson less than six minutes into the second period when his slap shot from the left circle drilled the inside of the post and skipped into the net to make it 3-0 Rangers.
It was the last goal the Rangers would need and helped send the Bruins (39-27-8) to their fourth straight regulation loss. Their 86 points are just three more than the ninth-place Detroit Red Wings, who hold a game in hand.
"We are all aware of the standings," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "We have to get back at it (against Florida on Thursday). We have a huge game tomorrow and have to bounce back and find some sense of urgency."
Bruins coach Claude Julien used profanity to express displeasure with a penalty called against center David Krejci that led to Stepan's goal that made it 2-0. He used softer language to describe his team's current situation.
"We didn't play well at all tonight," he said. "Whether it was one of those off-games then we will find out soon enough tomorrow night when we play Florida. I said this morning we control our own destiny. Right now, we are giving teams below us some hope, so we have to turn this around quick."
While the Bruins are surviving, the Rangers are relying on their goaltender -- with a little help from a hot power play -- to carry them to their sixth straight playoff appearance and maybe a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three years.
"Their power play got some good looks and (Lundqvist) made some real good saves," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Our power play was able to get some good looks and finish. When you're able to do that against a real strong team, that's a real positive for the group as far as confidence level."
NOTES: There was some doubt about the status of G Tuukka Rask, who was battling illness, but his ability to start meant the Bruins returned G Jeremy Smith to the AHL. ... The Bruins scratched RW Brett Connolly, RW Tyler Randell, D Joe Morrow and D Zach Trotman. ... Rangers LW Oscar Lindberg was scratched for a fifth straight game. Both he and RW Kevin Hayes were game-time decisions but Hayes was in the lineup on a line with C Eric Staal and LW Chris Kreider. ... Rangers LW Rick Nash was in the lineup after missing practice Tuesday due to soreness.