The Penguins did everything you're supposed to when facing a hot goalie. They threw pucks from all angles toward the net. They crowded the crease, and created traffic in front.
They did everything, except beat the goalie, of course.
There's been plenty of change to this New York Rangers team. A new head coach, who's employed a new system. Some new personnel, and a new sense of camaraderie in the wake of adversity. But through it all, there's been one constant; a common denominator that through it all, always needed to be there for the Rangers to have any longterm success in the postseason.
If you haven't figured it out by now, Henrik Lundqvist might have one a few more Game 7's while you were pondering.
While Lundqvist is sitting upright in his throne at the moment, this season has brought on the most unusual of circumstances for the Swedish-born netminder. An inconsistent start saw Lundqvist riding the pine, and the nine-year veteran told Blueshirt Banter it was the most difficult stretch of his career.
But if a lackluster start that saw him sitting at 7-12-1 and literally sitting out was difficult, maybe this most recent stretch, while challenging, is at least normal.
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The workload is as stiff as ever. After the Rangers fell behind to the Penguins in their second round series 3-1, Lundqvist faced 32, 37, and 36 shots against in the final three games, all wins, respectively. His save percentage in those final three games? A not-so-pedestrian .971. Adjust that to 5v5 close situations, and that number jumps to .978. It's nothing new to Lundqvist, who improved his career save percentage in Game 7's to a staggering .961, with a 5-1 record, but perfect in his last five, a new NHL record for goalies.
And the game-saving saves on Tuesday night were countless. There were rarely rebounds, or moments of panic. There was a tricky save on Chris Kunitz in the second period off a deflection in front right after the Rangers took a 2-1 lead, such a difficult stop Mike Emrick called the attempt off the post.
A few minutes later, Lundqvist denied Kunitz again when Sidney Crosby was able to thread a pass through the Rangers defense, putting Kunitz in close all alone. Then at the end of the second, James Neal slipped to the front of the net unmarked, but after taking a centering feed, Lundqvist made himself big, taking away the angle, and swallowed up Neal's shot.
Early in the third period, it looked like Evgeni Malkin would break through, when a Rangers turnover ended up at the point, and then Malkin deflected a blast, it was quickly answered by the reflexes of Lundqvist. His third period brilliance continued: A stretching glove save on Paul Martin with bodies obscuring his vision, and smothering tries from all parts of zone as if his equipment was covered in adhesive.
The finally came "the sequence," a stretch that will surely be looked back upon for years to come. It began by denying a jam-attempt by Neal, before the puck worked its way back out to the slot. Then Kris Letang had his shot stopped by Lundqvist, who stormed out to the top of his crease to meet the attempt. Finally, a backhand try by Martin that deflected off an unclaimed stick on the ice—that of Brian Boyle—appeared to be the stroke of puck-luck the Penguins needed. But never taking his eye off the rubber, Lundqvist was able to pin the shot under his arm, before again coming under seize, and holding his ground.
The rest of the way was simply a formality. A few more saves, and Lundqvist and co. watched the clock wind down to complete the historic comeback.
There was of course a time this season when Lundqvist was not the King. There were those calling for Cam Talbot, the stellar 25-year-old undrafted rookie, to take over the reins. In reality, Talbot was able to shoulder enough of the workload to allow Lundqvist to do what he did last night, in the midst of an Olympic year, and a slate of hockey that's quite physically demanding.
Even after Tuesday night's Game 7 victory, Lundqvist admitted he was tired down the stretch. He and the Rangers will get some much needed rest as they await the winner of the Bruins-Canadiens series, which will play its Game 7 Wednesday night. And that's a good thing for New York, which needs its King if it has any chance at raising the Cup.