By Larry Brooks
The celebrations, ceremonies and pomp and circumstance surrounding Henrik Lundqvist this season were driven by numbers, as in the all-time franchise numbers for victories (309) and shutouts (50) he achieved in knocking iconic Blueshirts Mike Richter and Ed Giacomin off their respective top rungs in the record book.
But there are other numbers for Lundqvist that come into play at this time of year, and they do not elicit images of marching bands, floats and parades. For as the King prepares for his eighth playoffs in his ninth NHL season, his tournament record is 30-37. There has been one trip to a conference final. Let’s just say that does not represent a crowning achievement.
We can stipulate this. Even at sub-.500, Lundqvist has almost always been the Rangers’ best postseason performer. There were the back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 in the first round last year against the Caps; excellence in Rounds 1 and 2 against Ottawa and Washington in 2012; outstanding work early in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
We can stipulate this as well. The Rangers’ largest perceived edge entering this opening-round series against the Flyers that will begin on Thursday at the Garden is at the top of the defense depth chart and in goal. It is kind of a given, isn’t it, that Lundqvist will outplay Steve Mason and/or Ray Emery? Isn’t it?
But then Richter was supposed to have a huge edge over Ron Hextall in 1997 and that didn’t work out quite so well.
Lundqvist is aware of his record, but he essentially dismissed it in an extended conversation with The Post on Saturday in Montreal.
“I don’t feel I have to prove I can play in the playoffs, absolutely not,” the King declared. “My last seven years in Sweden, I won four championships, two professional, two in junior. Then the  Olympics.
“I think I’ve played well in the playoffs. To win in the playoffs, it’s about getting the group to be at its best at the right time. This is not tennis or golf. It is a team sport where together we have to push ourselves.
“Of course I need to play well, and I think I have done that in the playoffs. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that.”
If the Vezina was a half-season award for only 2014, Lundqvist would win it. That’s how superior he was over the final three months of the season in leading the Blueshirts to the NHL’s fourth-best record following Christmas.
Lundqvist was so good, in fact, it is hard to believe he is the same person who struggled through the first three months of the year, a period in which he was benched a couple of times as he sought to deal with myriad issues, including stalled contract talks that went into December.
“So much of my game is based on mental preparation and technical preparation, and it’s very difficult when there are distractions,” Lundqvist said. “At this level, every little thing matters. One mistake can mean a goal that loses the game.
“Early in the season there were a couple of distractions. I’m not going to lie — the contract played a part,” said Lundqvist, who signed a seven-year, $59.5 million extension on Dec. 4 after also dealing with an early-season injury that remains unidentified. “When you add everything together, it was not perfect. It was the most challenging part of my entire career.”
Lundqvist steadied himself over the Christmas break, getting eight days between starts. He worked and talked it through regularly with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire. He consulted “a mental coach,” Dr. Fred Neff, with whom he has worked for the last three years. Neff lists himself as the Rangers’ official sports psychologist on his website.
“The break gave me time for a deep breath, where I could collect my thoughts,” Lundqvist said. “Technically, I was being too aggressive. I need to be patient. When I am, I make better decisions. That makes for better games.
“I was so disappointed with the way the season started, it took time for me to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to correct everything 1, 2, 3. I realized it was a process.”
The process earned Lundqvist and the Rangers first-round home ice. If the goaltender has nothing to prove, he and the Rangers now have everything to gain.
“I am very happy and proud of the way we overcame the start as a group and also for me personally,” he said. “We finished really strong, and as a team I think we have the right mix and the right mindset for the playoffs. I like the way we are playing.”
“Of course, individuals have to perform.”
Of course, some more than others.