Search This Blog

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Henrik Lundqvist’s Appearance in Stanley Cup Final Will Help Silence Critics


By: Mark Zwolinski

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist took to Twitter in the wee hours of Friday morning following a sterling 1-0 shutout win over Montreal that punched New York’s ticket to the Cup final.
“It took me nine years, finally made it. My first Stanley Cup final!! So proud of this group of guys! 4 to go …”
The 32-year-old from the ski town of Are, Sweden, was overjoyed.
Lundqvist, a nine-year NHL veteran, has always been one of the best goaltenders during the regular season. But his playoff numbers pale somewhat, largely he has played for Ranger teams scoring precious few post-season goals resulting in quick exits.
Now, Lundqvist is in his first final. “Hank,” as he’s referred to in the Rangers’ dressing room, has already sparked debate about dominating goalies and their roles in Stanley Cup runs. Lundqvist hasn’t won the Cup yet, but he’s on the same journey as some of the greatest over the past two decades. The list includes Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas.
There’s no question Lundqvist deserves mention in that group.
First and foremost, when he emerged victorious over the Penguins in Game 7 in the second round, Lundqvist became the only NHL goalie ever to win five Game 7’s.
That particular victory arguably did more to quell the debate about Lundqvist — that he is a tremendous regular season goalie with little playoff success. But his critics should remember that he has been nominated for the Hart and Vezina trophies and is a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy this season as well.
Lundqvist’s performance in these playoffs will not stand out as much, say, Roy’s 1993 playoff effort. The Habs lost the first two games of the playoffs that season but went on to register 10 overtime wins and had a record-tying 11-game playoff winning streak. And this by a team that didn’t have one player in the top 10 in regular-season scoring.
Others could point to Belfour’s performances for Dallas against the New Yersey Devils in the late 1990s as some of the greatest David vs. Goliath battles ever put up by a goaltender.
Lundqvist’s performances are more subtle but just as effective.
For instance, his Game 4 win over Montreal came with the Rangers in the penalty box for almost 15 minutes. Afterward, his save percentage shot up to .931 while his career playoff win total climbed to 41, good for 22nd on the NHL career list, and matched Mike Richter’s franchise record. (Lundqvist has now passed it, with 42 wins).
His second-round performance over Pittsburgh was one for the ages, largely because New York averaged 2.14 goals per game over the seven-game series, low for a playoff team. Essentially, though, Lundqvist was all but unbeatable as the Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit in the series. In the last three games, Lundqvist posted a GAA of 1.00, stopping 102 of 105 shots for a .971 save clip.
Ultimately, Lundqvist’s recognition as the game’s best — he led the NHL in games with two goals or less in the regular season — has carried over into the playoffs, where he has allowed two or less in 14 of 20 playoff games to date.
Even more impressive is that Lundqvist receives very little offensive support. So far in these playoffs, Lundqvist has backstopped a Rangers team averaging just 2.70 goals per game — eighth among the 16 playoff teams, but last among teams with 14 or more playoff games (Jonathan Quick is seeing his Kings teammates score 3.42 goals per game, which would have easily led the NHL regular season).
New York’s goal differential is plus-9 while the Kings are at plus-13. Lundqvist has faced 543 shots, made 504 saves, good for a league leading .928. Quick has faced 562 shots, with 511 saves, and is second at .909. Lundqvist, though, has allowed only 39 goals while Quick has seen 51 go past him.
Behind the Rangers’ low-ball goal production, Lundqvist entered these playoffs with 86 playoff games, more than anyone in the last nine years, save for the Penguins’ Fleury.
Lundqvist went to the conference final for the first time two years ago, losing to rival New Jersey. The Rangers, then under coach John Tortorella, where a low scoring team. They’d manage just 14 goals in the six-game series against the Devils, and Lundqvist had shutouts in two of the first three games.
“It felt like we didn’t reach our full potential,” Lundqvist said this week during the Montreal series. “It felt like we had some more to give, and that is something you want to make sure this time around that you put everything out there.
“Every practice now — everything — every little thing I can do now to help my game I’m trying to do that, and trying to do it the right way so I can help this team to win games. It’s fun when you challenge yourself to try to reach your top level, and that’s what you’re trying to do every game.
“But especially when it comes down to important games. You want to try to be there for your team, and it’s definitely about pushing yourself.”

No comments:

Post a Comment