PHILADELPHIA — Brad Richards couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat right. It was a regular-season game in early January at the Philadelphia Flyers, but the New York Rangers star knew it also was the Winter Classic.
“I was waking up a bunch early and [thinking], ‘Is it time yet? Is it time yet?’ ” Richards said.
Time came, and then froze with 19.6 seconds left. The Rangers were clinging to a one-goal lead when Ryan McDonagh was whistled for covering the puck in the crease, giving the Flyers a penalty shot against Henrik Lundqvist.
New York captain Ryan Callahan already was in the penalty box when it happened.
“I was just holding my breath and hoping he was going to stop it,” Callahan said.
Lundqvist did just that, the most clutch of his 34 saves in leading the Rangers to a 3-2 victory Monday at Citizens Bank Park.
“He’s the backbone of our team, definitely No. 1 star tonight,” McDonagh said. “If it wasn’t for him, we probably would’ve been on the other end of this one.”
The scene leading up to Danny Briere’s failed penalty shot provided plenty of drama on the league’s biggest regular-season stage. The Flyers were pressing and had the puck mere inches from the goal line when McDonagh dived to keep it out.
From New York’s perspective, it wasn’t the right call. Coach John Tortorella ripped the officials after the game
“We didn’t know if we really deserved it, but Hanky’s a big-time goalie and he came through big,” said tough guy Mike Rupp, who scored twice for the Rangers.
And while the validity of the call was disputed, McDonagh was confident in his decision-making.
“I see the puck trickling, just rolling. It’s probably another second and it’s going in. I knew consciously in my mind that you’re not supposed to cover it, and I thought I did my best to do that,” he said. “The ref probably doesn’t see the puck and he sees me laying there and he’s got to go with what his gut is. I’m just glad Hanky bailed us out there.”
The Flyers had the option of any player on the ice taking the penalty shot: Briere, NHL points-leader Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell or Matt Carle.
“It was my decision,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
Though Laviolette could be second-guessed, there’s no way to tell if anyone would have beaten Lundqvist in that spot. He knew exactly what to expect from Briere, understanding he had to force the veteran forward to make the first move.
“I just tried to be patient,” Lunqdvist said. “There was a lot of pressure on me there. … it was exciting. The whole game was exciting. The end was pretty intense, but it was great. But I just tried to be patient, and it worked out.”
Worked out in the form of two points for the Rangers, who have won seven of their past eight. Five of them were started by Lundqvist, and the loss came with Marty Biron between the pipes at Washington on Dec. 28.
But the penalty shot save showed yet again why New York has climbed to a tie atop the NHL standings with Lundqvist leading the way.
“That’s a huge play for us, and that’s what we play Hanky to make those stops for us,” defenseman Dan Girardi said. “I think he’s one of the best goalies in the league, and we’re glad to have him back there.”
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