WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Henrik Lundqvist showed he is one step closer to being back to top form.
Starting his second game after missing 25 with a neck injury, the Rangers’ No. 1 goalie made 32 saves as New York defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 on March 31.
“I feel a huge improvement from the first game, just the way I felt and my focus on the right details,” said Lundqvist, who lost 4-2 at Boston on March 28 in his return to the lineup. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction for me.
“It’s fun when you can help the team to get a win, and we needed to bounce back here after two losses. I knew it was going to take me a couple games to get going, and this was definitely a good step for me.”
Chris Kreider scored the tiebreaking goal with 3:46 left in the third period and completed the Rangers’ comeback from a pair of one-goal deficits.
Kreider beat defensemen Adam Pardy and Dustin Byfuglien near the blue line and sent a backhand deke past sprawling goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who made 21 saves.
The playoff-bound Rangers (48-21-7) also got goals from Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, snapped a two-game skid, and moved one point ahead of Montreal atop the Eastern Conference.
J.T. Miller sent Kreider the pass that led to the final goal.
“He made the entire play happen with his speed. He does that all the time,” Miller said. “He makes it easy for his linemates when he’s going like that.”
Jim Slater and Lee Stempniak scored for Winnipeg (39-26-12).
“That’s a team that has gone to a Stanley Cup finals,” Slater said of the Rangers. “They know how to win. We played right with them, but just couldn’t get the winner.”
The Jets welcomed back top center Bryan Little, who missed 11 games because of an upper-body injury. He logged 19:41 of ice time.
“It’s just one of those games where we are just right on the edge all game,” Little said. “You can’t say we didn’t have chances where it might have been a different game.
“It honestly felt like they didn’t get much, but the stuff they did they took advantage of and scored on. It could have gone either way.”
Slater scored his fourth goal of the season and second in three games. He kicked a loose puck to his stick at the side of the net and beat Lundqvist at 3:16 of the first period to put the Jets ahead 1-0.
Zuccarello tied it six and a half minutes later with a close shot off a rebound of Rick Nash’s drive for his 15th goal.
Winnipeg outshot New York 16-9 in the first period.
Stempniak, acquired in a trade with the Rangers on March 1, capitalized on a slick pass from Mathieu Perreault to restore Winnipeg’s lead.
Perreault was skating along the boards past the faceoff circle and suddenly sent a pass back and out to Stempniak, who beat Lundqvist high on the glove side at 1:25 to make it 2-1.
The Rangers tied it again when Brassard benefited from a screened Pavelec to score his 17th goal of the season at 10:13 on the power play.
That set the stage for Kreider’s winner. “I think it was just kind of a broken play,” Kreider said. “It’s definitely something I try to do a lot, just kind of a staple of my game, I guess.
“It’s difficult to defend when pucks are turned over. It’s hard to go from a standstill to picking up forwards who are driving to the net. That’s something we work on as a team.”