PITTSBURGH – On a night when the New York Rangers needed Henrik Lundqvist to be at his best, they got it and more.
Lundqvist stopped 35 shots to lead the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 and send them to the Eastern Conference Final.
For Lundqvist, success like this in a Game 7 has become almost routine. After losing his first Game 7 in 2009 to the Washington Capitals, he’s won five in a row. Four of the five wins came by a 2-1 score. You might say the Rangers feel confident with him in goal.
“We thrive on the opportunity,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “You get into those type of games, Game 7, you just get excited for it. You play well, you win the game. You don’t, you’re going home. As much pressure as people might think is on Game 7, I think it’s the opposite. It’s so much fun because it’s going either way.
“And we’ve got Hank – that helps.”
Lundqvist’s effort in sending the Rangers to the next round was well recognized by his teammates, in particular his play in the third period.
“Where they took their game to another level in the third period, our goaltender obviously took his game to another level,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “He was just able to stop a barrage of opportunities and he was the difference in tonight’s game.”
Lundqvist stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period to help hold down the game for New York.
“That’s an impressive third period,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said. “It’s so tough, especially in a Game 7, when you’re leading by a goal and not trying to play safe. You know they’re going to come with a lot of stuff. It’s great to have him back there. It’s great to be in two Conference Finals in three years with him. It’s a great feeling.”
Lundqvist wasn’t just strong in the final period, he made some saves that left the Penguins hoping for some puck luck. One flurry of stops came with five minutes remaining and found Lundqvist trying to stop the Penguins without his goal stick.
Like most of Pittsburgh’s shots on the night, the puck found its way to the King.
“They were coming hard,” Lundqvist said. “I tried just not to think about the result, not think about the consequences – just see it as a challenge for me to just stay in there and focus on the right thing. It was hard because you know it’s getting closer and closer. You need some bounces, for sure, but we earned them tonight by working really hard.
“I was so tired in the end but it was a great feeling when you know it’s a done deal. We did it, we came back from a 3-1. We did really well, we stayed in the moment. We just took it period by period and it helped us get back into this.”
The biggest part of the Rangers coming back from that series deficit was Lundqvist’s incredible play throughout the series. He finished the series with a .940 save percentage and allowed three total goals in the final three games.
With a few days to rest before the Conference Finals, he’s thinking of unplugging from hockey until it’s time to prepare.
“I don’t know I might take a break from hockey and not watch anything and not listen to anything,” Lundqvist said. “We’ll see. It’s been so intense the last couple of days and it’s really important to reload physically and mentally. We’ll see if I’ll watch. I’ve been watching a couple games so I know how they play and I faced them in the regular season so I know what’s coming.”
Safe to say the King has earned a bit of rest.