RALEIGH — Henrik Lundqvist may not be the best goalie in the NHL anymore. But for a night in Raleigh, he was impenetrable again.
The Rangers’ future Hall of Famer made 45 saves in befuddling the Carolina Hurricanes and leading New York to a 4-2 win Thursday in front of 13,878 at PNC Arena.
“I’m in result mode, but what are you going to say after that? Bad game?” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said after being asked if he was satisfied with the effort despite the final score. “I mean, you’d be stupid.”
The Hurricanes played perhaps their best period of hockey in the opening frame, but somehow found a way to enter the locker room down 1-0 — a harbinger of what was to come.
Carolina outshot the Rangers 22-6 in the first, but no one scored until defenseman Dougie Hamilton found himself a step behind Artemi Panarin in the slot, and the New York sniper buried a pass from Ryan Strome to make it 1-0 with just over 27 seconds left in the opening period.
“You play a whole first period and pretty much every shift in their end, and they get one little break and it kills all the momentum we gained in that period,” Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin said.
While Panarin got the first goal, it was Lundqvist — who won 5-1 at home over Detroit the night before — who starred for the Blueshirts. With the ice heavily tilted in the Hurricanes’ favor, Lundqvist made save after save to keep the game scoreless through much of the first.
“Getting out of that period 1-noting was unbelievable in a lot of ways,” Rangers coach David Quinn said.
The Hurricanes did finally cracked Lundqvist with just over five minutes left in the second.
Hamilton led the Hurricanes up the ice on a rush, then redirected a Slavin shot in the high slot past Lundqvist to tie the game at 14:32 of the middle frame.
The Rangers, however, regained their lead late in the period.
With Brett Pesce in the box for tripping, New York defenseman Tony DeAngelo’s point shot was tipped by Brendan Lemieux in front of Petr Mrazek (16 saves) for a power play goal and 2-1 lead with 1:56 left in the second period.
The Hurricanes entered the third down a goal but with a 34-14 shot advantage and even more staggering 60-25 shot advantage at 5 on 5.
The Rangers quickly extinguished any good vibes the Hurricanes had from their dominant first 40 minutes.
After Jake Gardiner turned the puck over at the Carolina blue line, Pesce and Sebastian Aho misplayed a defensive zone coverage and allowed Pavel Buchnevich to walk in alone on Mrazek and make it 3-1 just 75 seconds into the final period.
“When we turn pucks over at the blue line — I think that’s been the story the last couple games — that’s when the other teams are getting their chances and that’s where we’re giving up goals,” Slavin said.
The Hurricane got a glimmer of hope in the final minutes, with Aho’s centering attempt hitting the Rangers’ Lias Andersson and sneaking past Lundqvist to cut the lead to one with just over four minutes left.
But the final twist of the dagger came with 85 seconds left when Rangers defenseman Adam Fox — who forced a trade from Carolina to New York this offseason — got his second NHL goal into an empty net.
“These are tough ones because we played a pretty good game,” Brind’Amour said. “I think we were the better team start to finish, and their goalie was great. That happens. In 82 games, your goalie steals one here and there, and that’s what happened.”
Brind’Amour is just hoping his team feels as good about its play as he does despite a three-game losing streak.
“As long as you believe that’s the way that we need to play, then you’re going to be fine,” Brind’Amour said. “What you don’t want to have is guys start doing their own thing and not thinking that that’s the way that’s going to get it done. That’s what we have to guard against right now. … That’s the way it should look. The results will come if we play like that.”
Notes: Mrazek’s winning streak at PNC Arena was snapped at 15 games. … With Erik Haula missing his second straight game, center Eetu Luostarinen made his NHL debut. He finished with two shots on goal and two hits, plus won 4 of 7 face-offs in 9:21 of ice time. … Former Hurricanes center Greg McKegg made his first return to PNC Arena since signing with the Rangers this offseason. He was minus-1 in 10:30 of ice time with no shots on goal. … For the game, the Hurricanes had 76 shot attempts at 5 on 5 to the Rangers’ 31. … Hamilton finished with seven shots on goal and 13 total shot attempts. … New York blocked 17 shots, while Carolina blocked four. … Despite eight shots attempts, Andrei Svechnikov did not register a shot on goal. … Lundqvist is now 31-12-1 in his career against Carolina.