A 5-1 Rangers win on Sunday can be traced back to Henrik Lundqvist in the first period.
Without a brilliant showing by the goalie, the Rangers would have found themselves in a shootout against one the league's most potent offenses.
Instead, Lundqvist kept the Lightning at bay and allowed his team to look the part of a prolific offensive squad.
Lundqvist set the tone by making crucial saves on the Lightning's several odd-man rushes in the first period Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist only had 19 stops on the night, but prevented Tampa Bay from making things interesting in the first 20 minutes with six big saves.
"I really feel the most important part of the game was Hank in the first period," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We're up 2-0 and we're giving up chance after chance. We easily could have been down 3-2 in that first period."
Although the Rangers only yielded six shots in the first period, while taking 15 of their own, Tampa Bay had plenty of great opportunities. Tortorella said the Rangers gave up six odd-man rushes in the first period, a unusually high number for a team that is often solid defensively.
Less than four minutes into the game, with the Rangers nursing a 1-0 lead, Lundqvist stoned Vincent Lecavalier on a one-on-one chance. A few minutes later, Lundqvist snagged a one-timer by Nate Thompson. The Lightning just couldn't find a way to beat the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and the Rangers took a 2-0 edge into the intermission.
The Lightning managed their only goal in the third, slicing it to 3-1 when Lecavalier notched his fifth, but the Rangers scored the final two goals to move above .500 for the first time this season.
"I thought Hank was great," Rangers forward Rick Nash said. "That's why he's the best goalie in the league and winning awards for it. He's kept us in the game and he was unbelievable."
For as well as Lundqvist played Sunday, it hasn't been the best of starts for the veteran. Entering Sunday, he was 4-5 with a 2.61 goals against average, which would be the highest mark of his career. Even Tortorella, who usually isn't critical of the goalie, had recently said Lundqvist had to play better.
In the last two games, though, it's coming together for the goalie. He stopped 27 shots in a win Thursday against the Islanders, and had the great first period against Tampa Bay. Tortorella said Sunday that Lundqvist is playing much better and it was only a matter of time until the goalie played at the high level he's often exhibited throughout of his career.
"I'm getting there, technically and mentally," Lundqvist said. "I think I'm starting to get close to where I need to be. We talked about it couple games ago and the difference is not big. It's just making the extra save when you need to. I felt like I wasn't far away and the last couple games I felt like I did my job."