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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lundqvist opens Olympics with shutout Rangers goalie picks up right where he left off as Swedes top Germans


Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist picked up the first Olympic shutout of his career with Team Sweden on Wednesday night, as the defending Olympic champions beat Germany 2-0 in their Group C round-robin opener

Lundqvist, whose last Olympic start was in Sweden's 2006 gold-medal win over Finland, stopped all 21 German shots at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver, helping the Swedes get off on the right foot.

"It was a good start for our whole team and for me. It was a pretty solid game," Lundqvist told NBC and MSG broadcaster Joe Micheletti. "I felt like I faced 40 shots, because it was so wram in there and I was sweating a lot."

With his victory, Lundqvist became the fourth straight Blueshirt to play in a tournament-opening victoryn. Rangers captain Chris Drury and alternate captain Ryan Callahan won with Team USA over Switzerland on Tuesday, and Rangers forward Olli Jokinen was part of Finland's 5-1 win over Belarus in an earlier game on Wednesday.

Rangers scoring leader Marian Gaborik and his Slovak teammates were set to face former Blueshirts star Jaromir Jagr and the Czech Republic in Wednesday's final game. Gaborik, who cut his knee on Lundqvist's skate at a Feb. 9 Rangers practice, was not expected to play, but ended up dressing for the game and was in the lineup late Wednesday, skating on a line with Jozef Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy.

On Tuesday, Slovakia's team doctor had said he thought it might be best for Gaborik to sit out the two early games, particularly since all teams will still have a chance to qualify for the tournament quarterfinals regardless of their record after round-robin play concludes on Sunday.

As he has been throughout his career with the Rangers, Lundqvist was particularly sharp in the third period when Germany reached desperation time. He stopped all 11 shots he faced over the final 20 minutes and made two particularly big saves on long blasts by defenseman Jakub Ficenic with roughly five minutes left in the game.

With just under four minutes left, Lundqvist made perhaps his best save of the night against Germany's Andre Rankel to preserve the shutout.

Despite the late need for his services, Lundqvist's Swedish teammates made it a relatively easy evening for him. The Swedes outshot the Germans 25-21 and had the puck for much of the game. When they weren't attacking in the German zone, Swedish players were clamping down defensively and making sure Lundqvist saw all the shots that came his way.

"You can just see all the talent on this team and the way they control the puck," Lundqvist said of his Swedish teammates. "It's pretty nice to be back there (behind them)."

Even Boston Bruins forward Marco Sturm, who had the best scoring chances against Lundqvist throughout the night, didn't have much time to finish any of those plays. His most dangerous chance came with just under 11 minutes left in the second period, but his backhander from just outside the crease went right into Lundqvist's pads.

Wednesday night also saw strong goaltending from Germany's Thomas Greiss, who made 23 saves. The San Jose Sharks' backup netminder, who has seen action in 12 NHL games this season, was particularly sharp through the first 30 minutes. He stopped all six Swedish shots in the first period and didn't allow a goal until defenseman Mattias Ohlund broke through on a power play at 4:29 of the second period.

Unfortunately for Greiss, the power-play tally was all Sweden would need to get a win for Lundqvist. Germany, which had earlier missed scoring on a 5-on-3 opportunity with Stefan Kronwall and Johnny Oduya in the penalty box for Sweden, allowed the Swedes to capitalize on a boarding penalty to Marcel Muller at 3:12 of the second.

Picking up the puck at the point, Ohlund walked in to the top of left circle and fired a hard slap shot into the top right corner.

The Swedes stretched their lead to a more comfortable 2-0 when Washington Capitals star Nicklas Backstrom emerged from the right corner, cut across the goal line and slid a perfect pass past the front of the crease to wide-open Dallas Stars forward Loui Eriksson at 14:13 of the middle period. Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who had started the play, also picked up an assist on Eriksson's goal.

Germany deserved credit for putting up a strong fight against the defending champions. Coached by former NHL defenseman and Stanley Cup champion Uwe Krupp, the Germans had only seven NHL players in their lineup on Wednesday, but kept it competitive from the start -- even managing to outshoot the Swedes 7-6 in the first period.

Lundqvist and Team Sweden return to action at 3 p.m. ET on Friday against Belarus. Games on the schedule for Thursday feature Callahan and Drury skating for Team USA vs. Norway in the afternoon and Gaborik's Slovak team against Russia in the late-night matchup.

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