The scene wasn’t an unfamiliar one.
In a close-scoring battle between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, the Blueshirts needed their star goaltender — Henrik Lundqvist — to deliver a brilliant performance. ‘The King’ delivered, making 29 saves in a 3-2 victory that catapulted the Rangers past the Devils, and into the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings.
During one sequence when the Rangers were shorthanded in the second period, Lundqvist made three remarkable saves to keep the score tied at two. Shortly after the penalty ended, Rick Nash tallied the game-winner.
“I felt it was really important to step up there,” Lundqvist said after the game. “You felt that when it was a 2-2 game, the next goal was going to be huge.”
Unlike recent years, the Rangers’ goaltender has not been the focal point of discussion surrounding the Blueshirts.
Through the first 29 games of the season, the banter surrounding the Rangers has been about the offense, or lack thereof. Whether it’s Rick Nash’s scoring prowess, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards searching for offense, or what the Blueshirts will do next with rookie Chris Kreider, the goaltending hasn’t been the major story.
But while the offense struggles, Lundqvist has kept the Rangers in the mix. Even though he hasn’t recorded a shutout this season, the 31-year-old has a 2.23 goals against average (7th in the NHL) and a .922 save percentage (9th in the NHL).
Taking out Lundqvist’s first three games of the season, he has a 1.98 goals against average and a .929 save percentage in 22 starts. Those statistics are almost identical to his 2011-12 numbers (1.97 goals against average, .930 save percentage), which were good enough to give Lundqvist his first Vezina Trophy.
The only difference between this season and a year ago is the number of wins. While the Rangers were the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12, the lack of offense has put the Blueshirts in the middle of the pack.
For the better part of the campaign, the Rangers have been a streaky team. Starting on February 7th, the Blueshirts won four out of five, and then proceeded to lose four in a row. After that stretch, the Blueshirts rebounded by winning five out of six, only to lose three in a row.
Consistently inconsistent would be the best way to look at the Rangers season. One of the few constants has been the Blueshirts’ backstopper.
The eight-year veteran has consistently been the Rangers best player since he arrived in New York after the 2004-05 work stoppage. Lundqvist has been chosen as the Rangers’ team MVP in each of the last six seasons, a franchise record. The only year he wasn’t given the award was his rookie year, when Jaromir Jagr established franchise records for goals and points in a single season.
Time and again, Lundqvist has rescued the Rangers from disaster. Following the latest skid, during which the Blueshirts scored two goals in three games, Lundqvist stopped 58 of 61 shots and led the Rangers to back-to-back wins.
“I felt a lot of pressure to not make too many mistakes,” Lundqvist said following the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night. “We need the points, and I know right now we’re not scoring a ton.
“I know I just need to focus on my game and try to be even better and cut down a goal or two per game.”
Fortunately for the Rangers, succeeding in net with a low-scoring offense isn’t unfamiliar to their best player.