As the calendar moves closer toward summer, this time of year has been dominated by the one they call “King” for nearly decade and counting. No, I’m not talking about LeBron “King” James as he embarks on a three-peat with the Miami Heat. I’m talking about the other King, the one that plays his home games in Madison Square Garden, where many folks thought LeBron would call home prior to his now infamous decision.
I am, of course, talking about New York Rangers goaltender “King” Henrik Lundqvist.
Last night, Lundqvist was brilliant in New York’s 3-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals. He made 40 of a possible 41 saves, standing on his head from the moment the puck was dropped, easily the best player on the ice for either team. Essentially, it was more of the same from King Henrik.
On this run toward Lord Stanley’s Cup, Lundqvist has had perhaps his most impressive run to date, stopping 422 of a possible 452 shots this postseason thus far, good enough for an absurd 1.93 goals against average and .934 save percentage. He was brilliant in both Game 7s he’s played in thus far this playoff season, stopping 26 of 27 shots in a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers to advance to round two and following that up with an even more remarkable 35 saves on 36 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins to steal Game 7 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Simply put, he’s been the best player on the ice on a nearly nightly basis, coming up biggest when the scoring-challenged Rangers need him the most. And truth be told, he’s been doing this for years.
It’s easy to overlook King Henrik’s remarkable playoff numbers given that the Rangers haven’t been to the Stanley Cup Final since winning it all in 1994. In that time, New York has routinely underperformed come the postseason, bowing out earlier than expected time and time again. But it’s been little fault of Lundqvist, who has been spectacular in the playoffs during his career.
Contrary to the belief that the former Vezina Trophy winner is more a regular-season performer and postseason standout, as his team’s playoff history suggests, Lundqvist has actually been the major reason each and every season that the Rangers have had as long of a playoff stay as they have. For his career, he has a 2.22 goals against average and .923 save percentage in the playoffs. Take out the three games he played in his first playoff as a rookie, where he surrendered 13 goals, and his numbers are even more impressive: 2.19 GAA and .926 save percentage.
He’s kept that pace this year, as the Rangers have scratched and clawed their way to within two victories of winning the Eastern Conference, playing the maximum number of games possible thus far.
The thing about King Henrik is you always know what you’re going to get out of him. That’s solid goaltending, often spectacular goaltending, never playing shaky. He is the rock for the Rangers, the man who calms the tides and steadies the troops. Since Lundqvist never panics, the Rangers rarely panic. And that’s because they know, if they can just manage a goal or two, the one they call King will give them a better than good shot at victory.
Take, for instance, his tremendous play to start the game last night. The Canadiens, sensing the desperation, played just like a desperate team should, taking it to the Rangers. All the play was in New York’s zone, and chances upon chances came Lundqvist’s way — some beyond excellent chances. Yet there was Henrik providing a brick wall of silence, turning away shot after shot, chance after chance, keeping the Rangers in it. Yes, the Canadiens took the lead in the first period, but they could have put the game out of reach the way they were taking it to New York. Yet Lundqvist wouldn’t let them. He kept his team in the game, and just 17 seconds after Montreal lit the lamp, New York tied it. Then they took the lead before the first period was through — this despite Montreal outshooting and outworking the Rangers. And it was all because of Lundqvist, who stopped every shot he faced the rest of the way.
There is nothing more valuable in a goalie than that. Confidence. And not just confidence, but supreme confidence. You know, each and every night, Henrik Lundqvist will never be the reason the Rangers lose — and many times he’ll be the biggest reason why they win.
Obviously, we don’t know how many wins the Rangers have in them this playoff season or seasons upcoming. We don’t know if Lundqvist if can nab six more victories — or even two more for that matter. But what we do know is the quiet King will let his play do the talking, and that play will give the New York Rangers a chance to win each and every contest, and as good a chance as any team to hoist that elusive Stanley Cup.