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Leonard: Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist rules Game 2 vs. Capitals

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NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiRobert Sabo/New York Daily News

Henrik Lundqvist spends plenty of time sprawling all over the ice to make highlight-reel worthy saves as the Rangers draw even with the Capitals after a Game 2 win.

Chris Kreider was a man possessed Saturday afternoon at the Garden. Dan Girardi remained the Rangers’ most consistent all-around skater in these playoffs. Derick Brassard reminded everyone that he eats, sleeps and breathes big games. And “workhorse” winger Jesper Fast, as Kreider called his new linemate, impressed a national audience. But their stories in this series-evening 3-2 Rangers Game 2 victory are recounted triumphantly only because their best player on Saturday was in their own net — again.

“That’s the Hank we know and love right there,” Girardi said of Henrik Lundqvist, who made 30 saves.

The play everyone will remember probably is Alex Ovechkin’s goal at 10:29 of the third period to draw Washington within one, an astonishing display of speed, strength and skill. He split Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to the right circle and ripped a laser wrist shot from his knees into the top far corner.

“To be able to shoot it that hard on your knees,” Lundqvist said in admiration, “he definitely surprised me a little bit there. He’s one of the best players in the game. There’s no question.”

It takes one to know one, though. Even with the Rangers’ torrid start and 2-0 lead at first intermission, they would have been nowhere, down 0-2 in this series, without their King.

The lasting image was Lundqvist and five teammates holding on for dear life in the final 1:42 with the impressive Braden Holtby (32 saves) pulled from Washington’s net and six skaters on. Rangers forward Tanner Glass, Lundqvist said, blocked Ovechkin’s final desperate attempt wide with his hand.

“Mayhem,” Lundqvist said.

“It felt like they had 20 guys on the ice,” Girardi said.

“Hahahaha,” coach Alain Vigneault laughed nervously, when asked how his team had “closed out this game.” “I thought they had some good looks at the end there. Hank had to come up with a couple big saves… It was a tough last couple of minutes.”

This is the only way the Rangers know how to win, by one goal, the margin in all five of their victories so far this postseason.

Saturday, though, it could have been a three-goal Washington win, except Lundqvist wouldn’t have it, not after allowing Joel Ward’s Game 1 winner through his five-hole with 1.3 seconds left on Thursday.

“He was pretty pissed off after Game 1,” Brassard said of Lundqvist. “He came back tonight and I thought he played like he was pissed off.”

“After what happened last game, we were all upset,” Lundqvist said. “I was really annoyed. It really bothered me.”

Lundqvist faced just four shots in the first period, but 4:22 in, Girardi left the front of the net and Ovechkin was alone, patiently holding for an opening, only to be denied by Lundqvist reaching with both arms from the ice.

“He had so much time that I was in a good position, but he waited me out,” Lundqvist said. “In the last second there you just try to use both hands to make the save.”

The second period was Lundqvist’s 15-save show, however.

At 3:16 in, he redeemed himself against Ward in close. At 8:12, even though his initial glove save on a Mike Green wrist shot popped over his head toward the opposite side of the net, Lundqvist adeptly swiveled and found the puck above his right shoulder, and used his blocker to punch it to safety.

“I knew it was somewhere up there,” Lundqvist said, looking over his head like a juggler.

Saturday’s masterpiece, though, was Lundqvist’s cross-crease push to his right for a spinning blocker save on Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov at 11:21 of the second after an absurd spinning backhand pass by Ovechkin.

The stop was reminiscent of Lundqvist’s windmill blocker save on a deflected Thomas Vanek pass in last spring’s 1-0 win over Montreal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final to clinch a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. But Lundqvist said last year’s save was “more instinct” — he was able to think through Saturday’s stop.

“I had committed across,” Lundqvist explained, “so when (Ovechkin) passed it, I had so much ground to cover that when I pushed, I knew the top corner was open. So I showed it to him, and I closed it.”

He later denied Troy Brouwer one-on-one at 15:25 of the second period, and in the third made 12 saves, including two on Nicklas Backstrom early and a late stop through traffic on Brouwer with 1:34 to play.

It turns out Lundqvist also spoke up in the locker room entering that third period.

“I talked about it going into the third: We have to leave everything out there,” Lundqvist said.

Leave everything out there. Leave everything to him.

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