Well he did it and now it’s time to bow to the King. Henrik Lundqvist put the Rangers on his shoulders and carried them to victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, capping off a historic 3-1 series comeback with a heroic 35-save performance Tuesday night in the Consol Energy Center.
Make no mistake- the Rangers are moving on because of the play of number 30 (what, did you really think I was going to say Rick “no goal” Nash?) With the Penguins assaulting the Rangers’ zone Tuesday night, the King stood tallest. Bodies were flying all over the crease, sticks were lost, pucks were rifled, but the King wouldn’t flinch. In a career that has been nothing short of remarkable, the past three games were no doubt his finest moments punctuated by the third period of game 7.
Only a few weeks ago there were questions from writers and fans about whether Lundqvist could carry his team to a playoff victory when no one expected it. Sure, he had beaten the Capitals in Washington last season. He helped his team “upset” the Thrashers back in 2007. But he only advanced past round two once in his career. He could never step on the throat of an opponent in a series. Throughout his all-star career, he never had that signature series victory…until now.
I was one of those schmucks who doubted his ability to raise his play and all he did was send me a nice serving of crow these past few games. If a 5-1 record in game 7’s, while never allowing more than 2 goals in any of them, doesn’t excite you, then what will? How about the only goalie ever to win 5 straight game 7’s? Or that he just stopped 102 of 105 shots against Pittsburgh and its high-octane offense in three straight do-or-die situations? Is there anything he can’t do?
Well, we’re about to find out. After slaying the Penguins’ monster, he gets a crack at another nemesis in the Montreal Canadiens. Worse yet, his Rangers are the road team this series. While normally a team with the road pedigree of the Rangers wouldn’t care about where they opened a series, the Bell Centre has been a house of horrors for Lundqvist throughout his career. He hasn’t won there since the 2008/09 season and has been relegated to backup duties the past several years when the Rangers visit. For whatever reason, the King has been more a jester in Montreal (and no, backup Cam Talbot is not playing in this series…don’t even think about it).
However, if there was ever a time that Lundqvist could exorcise his Bell Centre demons, it would be now. He has been locked in the past two weeks and no doubt his confidence is at an all-time high. His Rangers are playing inspired hockey and will have had a full three days off between game 7 and game 1 in Montreal Saturday afternoon. Is it the perfect storm of events for the King?
Now that the series is set, there will be plenty written about it between now and game 1. Everyone will have an opinion. Every angle will be covered. By Saturday afternoon we won’t just be anticipating puck drop, but craving it as our ears bleed from over-analysis.
But for now it seemed right to pay respects and bow to the King one more time.