PITTSBURGH -- There have been several memorable moments for the New York Rangers already during this 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and there may be plenty more to come, but that string of saves from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the waning minutes of the team’s 2-1 Game 7 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night certainly belong in the pantheon of jaw-dropping feats.
With a wild, frenzied scramble in front of the net, Lundqvist made a flurry of saves, stopping both James Neal and Evgeni Malkin with just more than five minutes remaining. It was made no less dramatic when he lost his stick during the sequence but, with some shot-blocking help from his teammates, was able to preserve the one-goal lead regardless.
Lundqvist, who set an NHL record as the first goaltender to record five consecutive wins in Game 7s, did not have to rack his brain for the appropriate word to describe the heart-pounding shift.
“That was chaos,” he said, able to chuckle about it after his team pulled off a dramatic series upset after once trailing the Penguins 3-1 following Game 4.
Defenseman Marc Staal didn’t have a hard time putting those collection of stops in perspective, either. The 27-year-old defenseman, who has played with Lundqvist since 2007, isn’t often hyperbolic. But there was no other way to describe what he saw in the Rangers’ crease.
“Those saves with five minutes to go, I don’t know if it was three or four, those were the biggest saves I’ve seen him make, I think, since I’ve been here,” Staal said.
Lundqvist was always going to be the Rangers’ most critical player in the team’s second-round series against the Penguins, a team that featured offensive dynamos Sidney Crosby and Malkin. The former Vezina Trophy winner gave the Blueshirts the irrefutable edge between the pipes, and he was the X factor in the winner-takes-all Game 7.
“It's the difference in the game; his 35 saves are the difference in the game,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “Tip your hat to him and how he played and, again, it's in a Game 7. He's been good there and was again tonight.”
Bylsma was not exaggerating about his dominance in those sort of pressure-cooker situations.
After a sensational 36-save effort at Madison Square Garden in Game 6, Lundqvist was again sublime in turning away 35 of 36 shots faced from Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. Here’s a closer look, just in case that’s not convincing enough: the 32-year-old franchise netminder has an absolutely mind-boggling 0.80 goals against average, .973 save percentage and one shutout in his last five Game 7’s. Take that a bit further to include other elimination games and Lundqvist is 10-2 with a 1.32 goals against average, .957 save percentage and two shutouts in the past 12 games when the Rangers played in a do-or-die situation.
“I get a lot of questions about it. It is a little surprising to me because it is a team game,” Lundqvist said. “As a team we’ve been accepting the challenge of playing big games. That’s where it starts. I feel like sometimes it’s a little too much focus on the goalie.”
Lundqvist feels that those accolades should be shared with the team, however.
“I feel like when they give me a chance to do my thing and vice versa, we’re in good business,” he said. “We do it together out there.”