NEW YORK -- With two of the NHL's best goaltenders each playing at the top of his game, the only shot that went in at Madison Square Garden on Thursday was actually a pass.
Mats Zuccarello's pass attempt deflected off defenseman Brian Lashoff's stick and beat Jimmy Howard for the game's lone goal with 5:58 left in the third to give the New York Rangers a 1-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist made 38 saves to earn the shutout, and Howard made a season-high 47 stops.
With the goaltenders treating the MSG crowd to several highlight-reel saves, Zuccarello's admittedly lucky goal broke the deadlock.
"I was passing to [Benoit] Pouliot, and it hit a stick and went in," Zuccarello said. "It was just luck."
Taking a pass on the rush from Derick Brassard, Zuccarello glided down the left wing before attempting a cross-ice pass that skipped off Lashoff's stick. Howard was playing the pass and could not adjust in time as the puck fluttered over his right pad and just past his outstretched blocker to give New York (25-21-3) a 1-0 lead. It was Zuccarello's 12th goal, tying him for the team lead with Rick Nash and Brad Richards.
"It's unfortunate," said Howard, who has made 44 or more saves in three of in his past four games (2-2-0). "It was an entertaining game if you're a fan of goaltending, that's for sure. Henrik played real well down at the other end, and I knew I was going to have to match him and outplay him."
With Howard on the bench for an extra attacker, Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall fired a shot from the point that appeared to bounce off Lundqvist and then the post before sliding in the crease with 44.5 seconds remaining. The Rangers goalie managed to cover up just in time to preserve the win.
It was a fitting way to decide an outstanding goaltending duel that saw both teams combine for 60 shots in the first 40 minutes.
"You don't get a reaction [from the crowd], so you know it's behind you somewhere. So you don't want to make too big of a move," Lundqvist said. "It was right there. It's nice to get some puck luck after a few tough bounces. We worked so hard. They had a few chances, but overall we played so well. It was a good goalie game, I guess."
The Red Wings (20-17-10) lost 1-0 for the second straight game.
Each goalie made numerous big saves to keep the game scoreless, with Howard making one of his best stops 5:57 into the second. Following a scramble in the slot, Carl Hagelin found a loose puck in close in front of what appeared to be a wide-open net. But the Rangers wing could not lift the puck high enough to beat Howard, who stretched his left pad out to make the save.
The Rangers' best chance of the second may have come with 2:52 remaining in the period, when Derek Stepan went between his own legs to leave a drop pass for Ryan Callahan in the slot. The Rangers captain held on to the puck long enough to take Howard out of the play, but was forced wide by Henrik Zetterberg before firing a shot that went through the crease and wide of the goal.
Lundqvist and Howard, who will represent Sweden and the United States, respectively, at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics, provided a possible preview of things to come when the Games kick off next month.
"I knew [Howard] was going to play real well and not give up a lot of goals. I just tried to go in with the approach that maybe one or two goals, that's going to be it tonight," Lundqvist said. "We played so well as a team on both ends. We created a lot of chances, but Jimmy played really well."
Lundqvist didn't face a single shot for the first 2:47 of the game, but the Red Wings made him work hard for his first stop. After taking the puck along the right wing, recent American Hockey League call-up Cory Emmerton fed a speeding Danny DeKeyser at the lip of the crease. The defenseman's redirection was stopped by Lundqvist in what would be his first of many big saves.
Stepan found space in the slot after taking a pass from Chris Kreider 30 seconds later, going to his backhand on a partial breakaway before being foiled by Howard.
The Detroit goaltender was busy early, making a glove save on Brad Richards from in close 3:56 into the first before stopping Michael Del Zotto's point shot and covering up the rebound 12 seconds later. Lundqvist also was up to the task, making four saves with the Rangers down a man after Stepan was whistled for hooking at 6:48.
"I thought our guys worked hard, and we had outstanding goaltending from Howard, which was really positive. They got outstanding goaltending from Lundqvist," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Even 6-on-5, I thought we made a really good play and got it behind him but didn't score. You don't get a lot of moral victories in the NHL. For me, the evaluation process for our team is how hard we play and how organized we are. I was pleased with that."
Lundqvist has allowed two goals or less in his past five games, going 4-1-0, and became the first Rangers goalie to shut out the Red Wings since John Davidson on Nov. 27, 1976.