Apr 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) makes a glove save against the Ottawa Senators during the third period of a game at Madison Square Garden. The Senators defeated the Rangers 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Henrik Lundqvist Looks to Add to Playoff Resume

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Is it possible to be a king without a crown? Can you be the best if you never play the best when the best is needed? Are you a legend if you haven’t done anything legendary? These are the questions starting to creep up when you utter the name “Henrik Lundqvist” and the whispers may grow louder over the next two weeks as the New York Rangers gear up for a second-round showdown with Metropolitan division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“The King” has had a magnificent regular season career through nine seasons…309 wins (and counting)…50 shutouts (and counting)…nominated for five Vezinas while winning one…three all-star games. The accomplishments go on and on, but…

Ah, those three letters that make up that tiny word that carries huge significance: “but.” As in, “he’s great and all, but he’s never won the Cup.” He carries those words around his neck like Frodo carried the one ring to rule them all. The burden to lift a franchise to a place it’s only seen once in nearly three-quarters century.

Let’s make one thing clear: Lundqvist is a terrific goalie. He’s been great since day one when he filled in for an injured Kevin Weekes back in October 2005. His excellence, consistency, and durability have been surpassed by no one since he entered in the league, but…

He’s yet to carry his team to the Stanley Cup. He’s only been past the second round once in his career when his top-seeded Rangers were discarded by the sixth-seeded Devils in 2012. He sits six games below .500 in his playoff career at 34-40…a far cry from his regular season record of 309-195-62. Amazingly his save percentage and goals against average are almost identical between the regular and post season, but…

He has yet to throw the Rangers on his shoulders and carry them to the promise land. True, he has rarely had the better supporting cast around him in the playoffs to help shoulder the burden. But neither did Tim Thomas with Boston or Cam Ward in Carolina when they won their Stanley Cups. Hell, we even got “Giggy” with it in Anaheim as J.S. Giguere carried his team to a seventh game in the finals before falling to the Devils. No question the talent is there with Lundqvist to make a similar run, but…

Does he have “it” in him mentally? Can he learn to step on the opposition’s throat? The Rangers set a dubious streak by losing its last 12 playoff games where they led in a series. During that span personnel and coaches have changed. One of the few constants has been in the net. The last four Ranger series victories have all went the limit and the physical wear and tear on the squad has been a factor in their ousters each year.  It’s tough enough to win 4 games in a series…it’s even tougher when you need the full 7 each time to close the deal.

Wednesday night Lundqvist did enough to escape Madison Square Garden with a series victory over the Flyers. Despite the strong series numbers, you would be hard-pressed to find someone with the sentiment that Lundqvist brought his “A” game to the series. In fact he wasn’t even the best goalie in the series as Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason turned heads with his stellar play and left Flyer fans wondering “what could have been” had he been healthy early in the series.

Fortunately for Lundvist he’ll have another opportunity to change his playoff narrative starting Friday night. Vegas odds makers have installed Pittsburgh as the favorite despite the advantage the Rangers seemingly have in net. Lundqvist will have to be at his best against the Penguins for the Rangers to have a shot at advancing. And heaven forbid he’s outplayed by the embattled Marc-Andre Fleury en route to a Pittsburgh victory? The Ranger faithful may finally stop coddling their “king” and start pointing fingers at their franchise goaltender.

The fact is the Rangers and Lundqvist are wed to each other. The 32-year old’s 7-year extension kicks in next season at a whopping $8,500,000 annual cap hit. He wanted to finish his career as a Ranger and he’s going to get that opportunity.  Where the sentiment was “he still has X amount of years left in his career to win” early on, the attitude has slowly changed to “he only has X amount of years left to win.”  He’s not old, but he certainly isn’t young anymore either.

This Ranger squad features their most talented and deepest club of the Lundqvist era.  Many experts have picked the Rangers to advance to the Conference Finals, despite Pittsburgh’s home-ice advantage.  The closest Lundqvist has come to stealing a series in his career was his work against Washington in the 2013 playoffs where he tossed back-to-back shutouts in games 6 and 7 to advance.  He’ll have to bring that same level of play into the second round.

The eyes of a kingdom will be focused on number 30 starting Friday night.  It’s time to add a crown fit for a king.

 

 

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Tags: Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers Pittsburgh Penguins

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