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30 Days of Lundqvist: Hank Completes Comeback vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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This series is one of my favorites of all time, but Game 7 was by far one of the most memorable.

New York Rangers  v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Five

The New York Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 remains one of my fondest memories to date, and their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins is most memorable to me of the games played during the run. This piece is going to focus on the Rangers’ 2-1 victory in Game 7, but indulge me as I reminisce to set the scene of how I remember this moment, and why it stands out to me.

In May of 2014, I was a senior in college at the State University of New York at Oswego, Go Lakers!, finishing my Bachelor's degree in Journalism. Things were winding down for the semester and I was getting ready to graduate.

Oswego is a school known for hockey, so there was always a great crowd that gathered to watch the games in my dorm or at one of the local bars. After a Game 1 victory in overtime I was feeling pretty good about things, and then a pendulum swung – the Rangers were shutout in back to back games and went down 3-1 after losing Game 4 by a score of 4-2.

Just when things looked like they couldn’t get worse for the Rangers, Marty St. Louis’ mother France tragically passed away. It was a terrible situation for such a tremendous human being and Marty’s availability for Game 5 and Game 6 was in doubt. This was the last thing on the mind of fans because there was a collective mourning for the loss of Marty’s mother.

Game 5 was held on Friday, May 9, but in Oswego, it was the last day of classes which is annually celebrated with the Bridge Street Run which is a tremendous bar “crawl” that covers about 3 miles.

It couldn’t have come at a better time because my thought was, if the Rangers lose and get eliminated, at least I will have a good time watching them go down. After an afternoon and early evening full of drinking and signing shirts with sharpies, I ended up at The Shed – a local watering hole 0.5 miles from my dorm room – a little bit before game time and I was feeling pretty good. I don’t think it was confidence in the team I felt, but rather the cocktail of various forms of alcohol still swirling through my system. For the life of me I don’t remember much about the day after BSR, but that doesn’t matter.

The game saw the Blueshirts score two goals in the first, two in the second, giving them a 4-1 lead going into the third period. Ultimately, they added one more before taking Game 5.

The victory was the Rangers’ second in the series and they had new life heading back to Madison Square Garden. The next game is affectionately remembered as the Marty St. Louis Mother’s Day game, and this will be broken down in this series so I will skip forward to the game at hand which was Game 7.

Game 7: May 13, 2014 | Consol Energy Arena | Pittsburgh, P.A.

At this point in the series you could feel the momentum and the “hockey gods” were on the Rangers side. They had come back from being down 3-1 in the series to force a Game 7, and had just experienced a huge lift in Game 6 at home. It was an elimination game for Henrik Lundqvist and to this point he was dynamite in Game 7s, having won his last four in a row.

Things got off to a good start with Brian Boyle, man I miss that guy, scoring the opening goal assisted by Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett. This was a time in history in which the Rangers’ had the best fourth line in the NHL.

Although the Rangers were up 1-0 after one, I had a nervous feeling inside because the team only mustered seven shots on goal while the Penguins looked dangerous with 10 shots on net.

The speed of play picked up dramatically in the second period after Jussi Jokinen scored his seventh goal of the postseason on a broken play in which Lundqvist failed to regain his net.

I thought that was going to be a turning point of the game because the Pens were buzzing, whereas the Rangers looked like they were playing not to lose; the magic was going to run out and this would be another Rangers series that would be remembered in infamy.

Some good fortune would shine on the Rangers after Matt Niskanen took a tripping penalty sending the Rangers to the power play. It took the Blueshirts a minute and 10 seconds until Brad Richards scored what would end up being the game-winning-goal on a setup from no other than Marty St. Louis at 12:04 of the second period.

The period ended with Pittsburgh getting some good chances, but the score remained 2-1 despite New York being out shot 23 to 13. The third period of this game is something that remains familiar to this day, and that is the strategy known as the shell. It was a very long third period that didn’t seem to want to end and it featured the Penguins throwing everything they had at Hank, but he just would not budge.

@hayyyshayyy
@hayyyshayyy

Here is a reverse angle of the above, and boy oh boy things got dicey.

@hayyyshayyy

In addition to the above, Hank made a number of logic defying saves such as this one on a shot from Paul Martin that rode up a stick but was swallowed up by Lundqvist’s arm pit. How the puck stayed out of the net remains a mystery to me.

@hayyyshayyy

He also remained cool under pressure when, in the words of Bob Cole, “everything was happening.” I think the worst part of the third period was the brief moment in which my TV feed was briefly interrupted by Oswego’s testing of the emergency alert system. The feed returned and Lundqvist held things down for the remainder of the game to give the Rangers a win and entrance to the Eastern Conference Final.

With this victory, Lundqvist became the first goalie to win five Game 7s in a row.

What is impressive to me is just how good Lundqvist was to turn the series around for New York. To complete the 3-1 series comeback, Lundqvist had to be out of this worldly, and that is exactly what he was. In the last three games of the series, Lundqvist had three wins with a goals against average of 1.00, and he stopped 102 of 105 shots for a 0.971 save percentage.

At that point in the playoffs Lundqvist had an overall goals against average of 1.99 and a save percentage of 0.931. He allowed only 27 goals while stopping 362 of 389 shots. Those numbers are insane and are just a sample of peak Lundqvist.

The series against Pittsburgh shows me why Henrik Lundqvist is one of the greatest goalies in the history of the sport. The Rangers were down and out and it looked like they would just fade away. Had the Rangers lost that series there would have been stories written about the St. Louis trade being a mistake, and another example of the team burning assets for no reason.

But that didn’t happen. Henrik Lundqvist didn’t let that happen. Instead he strung together some of the best games of his career and allowed his team to live to fight another day.

The Rangers next series was also memorable, as the team punched a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, but I don’t feel the same way I do when I think of the Penguins series. There are moments from that series I remember such as St. Louis’ overtime winner and Moore’s game-winning goal, but nothing overall as gripping as getting one over on Sidney Crosby and the Pens.

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Six Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It is a shame the Rangers ultimately fell to Los Angeles Kings in the Cup Final in a series in which four games went to overtime and were decided by one goal, two of which required double overtime. I still wonder what would have happened if Rick Nash’s shot avoided the stick of Slava Voynov to this day, and I hope that Lundqvist can win a championship to minimize the pain felt after losing that series.

Overall, the comeback against the Penguins was a blast and it was a lot of fun reminiscing about it. Games 5, 6 and 7 will stand out to me as long as I live, but Game 7 was off the charts for Hank.

#LongLiveTheKing