New York — In the biggest city, on one of the grandest stages, Jimmy Howard and Henrik Lundqvist put on a goaltending clinic Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
And, of course, it would be a fluky goal that would decide it.
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, who wasn’t even attempting to shoot, got a puck past Howard at 14 minutes, 2 seconds of the third period to give New York a 1-0 victory and Detroit its second straight 1-0 loss.
“I tried to pass (the puck), so it was a lucky bounce,” said Zuccarello, whose pass deflected off the stick of defenseman Brian Lashoff and off the post before getting past Howard for his 12th goal. I’ll take it. It was one of those games where two really good goalies and two really good teams out there were creating a lot of chances.
“A typical goal like that was going to decide the game.”
Howard was exceptional, making 47 saves in his return to his home state.
“Bittersweet,” said Howard of the evening. “It was an entertaining game if you’re a fan of goaltending. I knew I had to match (Lundqvist) or outplay him and that’s what I was trying to do.
“It’s tough. We did a great job and could have won the game, but Henrik found a way to keep a zero up there.”
Lundqvist made 38 saves for the Rangers, his third shutout of the season, and salvaged it with a stop on Gustav Nyquist with 44.5 seconds left in the game on a slap shot after the Red Wings won a faceoff.
Lundqvist turned around to smother the puck before it crossed the goal line.
“You don’t get a reaction so you know it’s behind you somewhere, so you don’t want to make too big of a move,” Lundqvist said. “I just turned around and it was right there. It’s fun when you get some puck luck.”
The Red Wings (20-17-10, 50 points) ended a five-game road trip 2-3-0. The Rangers (25-21-3, 53 points) moved three points ahead of the Red Wings in the wild-card chase.
“You don’t get a lot of moral victories in the NHL,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Yet to me, the evaluation process for our group is how hard we play and how organized we are and I was pleased with that.”
If Howard continues to exhibit the type of goaltending he did Thursday, the Red Wings will have a chance to climb back into the race.
Howard has been searching all season for the level of play he exhibited the past few years and he has shown it (except for a loss in San Jose) more consistently.
“My body is getting healthier,” Howard said. “As the days pass, I’m not really feeling anything out there with the knee or anything else. It’s comforting to be out there and be playing pain-free.”
Lundqvist is considered by many analysts the premier goaltender in the world currently.
“He is, and we know that, but today I don’t know if Howie was a little bit better,” said Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, Lundqvist’s teammate on the Swedish Olympic team. “He made some unreal saves and the goal that goes in goes off a skate and trickles in.
“I’d give the nod to Howie tonight.”
Unfortunately for the Red Wings, they couldn’t get one puck past Lundqvist.
Lundqvist denied Riley Sheahan in close in the first period, then in the second made back-to-back saves on Luke Glendening just inside the circle.
With the Red Wings short-handed in the second, Lundqvist stopped Drew Miller on an odd-man rush.
“We fired shots and if we got the puck past him, it hit a post,” Zetterberg said. “Unfortunately we can’t get any goals right now. It’s frustrating. We have to score some goals. We’re creating chances but we can’t bear down when we get them.”