When it comes to Henrik Lundqvist in Game 7s, the Rangers pretty much eliminate all doubt. Friday night, they’ll need another stellar effort from their goalie against the Lightning.
It was the last thing anybody wanted to see: Henrik Lundqvist, the franchise goaltender, the King of Game 7, taking a high J.T. Miller shot to his shoulder/neck area late in practice Thursday as the Rangers prepared for their winner-take-all Eastern Conference finals matchup against Tampa Bay Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
It was only a brief scare as Lundqvist stayed down on the ice for a moment, got up after a few seconds and shook it off. Any hint of pain for Lundqvist at this juncture would be worrisome, but especially after he missed 25 games during the regular season after taking a puck to the throat on Jan. 31, a shot that snapped his neck back so hard that he sprained a blood vessel.
The goaltender quelled any concerns after practice.
“It’s fine,” Lundqvist said. “It hurts for a while but then you’re fine.”
Miller went over to check on Lundqvist after he got up. “Obviously you don’t want to hit him in the head, but he’s fine,” Miller said.
Obviously. Lundqvist is indubitably the Rangers’ most important player, the primary reason many believe the Rangers hold an edge heading into Game 7. He is 6-1 in his career in Game 7s, having won his last six. During that stretch of six straight wins, which is a Game 7 record, Lundqvist has a 0.81 goals-against average and a .973 save percentage with one shutout.
Lundqvist’s 0.97 GAA in Game 7s is also an NHL record (minimum three appearances). The six overall Game 7 wins have him tied with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most all time. In Lundqvist’s four Game 7s at home, he is 4-0 with a 0.96 GAA and a .965 save percentage.
His experience is monumental, but as he did before Game 7 against Washington in the last round, Lundqvist tried to downplay the relevance of the statistics. None of that matters now, he insists.
“You could look at numbers in so many different ways and make them look better than they are,” Lundqvist said. “I feel like sometimes the last couple of years, yeah, we’ve had some success, but (Friday) it’s not about what we’ve done in the past. It’s about what we’re doing (Friday) and we really need to prove to ourselves that we can pull this one off.”
Carl Hagelin (r.) and his Rangers teammates have complete faith in Henrik Lundqvist. ‘He’s gonna bring it.’
It’s clear that for the Rangers to pull it off, they likely will need yet another sterling performance from Lundqvist. His teammates reference Lundqvist so often when discussing the team’s ability to persevere through so many elimination games, (they have won 15 of their last 18 such contests). They feel they have an advantage at any time of the year when Lundqvist is between the pipes, but it is amplified in a Game 7.
“Yeah, it’s true,” Carl Hagelin said. “We know that he’s gonna bring it.”
Trade-deadline acquisition Keith Yandle joined the Rangers only in early March, but in his short time with the club, the work ethic Lundqvist has displayed on a daily basis has stood out to him. Yandle said it has been fun to be around to witness Lundqvist carry himself with the utmost professionalism at all times, and his determination has been infectious.
“He battles every play,” Yandle said. “Whether it’s (a) practice or game, he’s trying to make every save, and it really spreads throughout the whole group.”
It’s been a long year for the Rangers, the pain of losing in last year’s Stanley Cup Final serving as the top source of motivation ever since. To come so close and fall short fueled a Presidents’ Trophy run, fueled a comeback in the second round when they were 101 seconds from elimination in Game 5, fueled a Game 6 win on Tuesday with their season on the line.
Now there’s just one game left before the Cup Final. It’s so close that the thought of being there again seeps into Lundqvist’s mind, yet it’s too far away — a Game 7 away — from reality.
“Well, of course you think about it,” Lundqvist said of the Cup Final, “but then you bring back your focus to where it needs to be, and that is on the job that needs to be done (Friday). Because even though you’re close, there is a lot of work to be done to get there.
“There really is.”
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