Previously on 30 Days of Lundqvist we talked about Hank’s first career win, that time Henrik went postal on a goal net, and the comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 ECSF. It’s been a fun series so far and now I want to talk about what is probably a defining moment in the dazzling career of Henrik Lundqvist: Game Six of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens.
The New York Rangers’ trip through the 2014 playoffs began with a seven game series with the Philadelphia Flyers, continued with emotional comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins and a ghost slaying six game set against the Montreal Canadiens. Ultimately, it culminated in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in twenty years.
Going into the series against Montreal the prevailing narrative was whether or not Henrik Lundqvist can slay the demons and ghosts that haunted him in the Bell Centre in his career. Alexei Emelin and the Rangers offense, along with some overtime heroics from Martin St. Louis that even Disney thinks was way too scripted and heartfelt, helped take care of that narrative pretty quickly as the Rangers jumped to a 3-1 series lead against the Habs. The Rangers headed into the Bell Centre in Game 5 with a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final and face either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings.
While Game Five turned into a bit of a clown show as Rene Bourque of all players picked up a hat trick and Cam Talbot actually saw action in a playoff game, something that was unheard of in the Lundqvist tenure (to that point, at least). It was safe to say that there seemed to be some feelings of doubt from the fanbase and media about how Lundqvist would respond to that Game 5 shellacking.
We really should have known better.
There’s a reason Henrik is called The King, the Greatest Goaltender in Franchise History, and Arguably The Second or Third Best Goaltender in NHL history. If anyone needs any hard evidence of these claims, just show them the highlights from Game 6.
To this day, that game was the best game the Rangers have played under head coach Alain Vigneault, bar none. While it may have ended at 1-0, I had a pretty good idea of how the game was going to end with just under 5 minutes to play in the second period – because this happened:
What a goddamn save.
Let’s break this down shall we? First, Montreal forced a turnover as the puppet strings that were attached to Marc Staal were cut and he lost control of his limbs. Thomas Vanek picked up the puck and had an open lane to the net. He shifted the puck to his back to protect it from any defensive pressure that may arise. Fortunately for him, Dan Girardi decided to see if he can fly and physics laughed at him just enough to tip Vanek’s backhand shot.
At this point, Lundqvist had already committed his weight to the open Canadiens’ player on the far post and began his transition. With the sudden change of the puck’s trajectory, Henrik decided that he is beyond the mortal chains of physics, ditched his stick, and somehow found enough of the puck with his blocker to prevent a goal as Brian Boyle got there in time to clear the puck away.
Hockey is such a graceful sport. Please note that the two players that were assigned as defense were the Rangers were in various stages of horizontal for ~90% of this play. To this day, I’m amazed that Henrik has not committed more violent crimes against goalie nets.
Not only was this save an incredible act of physics defying magic, but it was also a huge save at a crucial point of the game. It was past the halfway mark of a 0-0 game and a goal that late in the period would have been backbreaking for a team. Just ask the Canadiens about two minutes later when this happened:
There are so many highlights of Hank being great and coming up with incredible saves, but this save against Vanek in the situation that he and the team were in may just be the biggest of his career (at least in a Rangers’ jersey). This was the only time when I knew definitively that a Lundqvist save had won a game before the game was over in real time – and to this day it still makes me drop my jaw.