PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Rangers are gearing up for the stretch run to a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their best player, though, is hitting midseason form -- and that should be just what they want.
Henrik Lundqvist enters the Rangers' game Tuesday at the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) playing his best hockey of the season. In his most recent start, he stopped all 29 shots Saturday in a 1-0 overtime win against the New York Islanders, registering his first shutout of the season. And since the calendar flipped to April, Lundqvist is 5-1-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. Because of Lundqvist's strong play, the Rangers enter Tuesday eighth in the Eastern Conference, but two points behind the sixth-place Ottawa Senators.
While time on the regular season is ticking down, Lundqvist's goaltending partner said he believes his teammate is just getting warmed up.
"In a regular season, we'd be in December right now and that's usually when people say players hit their midseason form -- and that's what he's hitting right now," Martin Biron told NHL.com. "He's hitting his midseason form and he's getting to be where he was. If you look at last season, the month of December, the Winter Classic and on, he was spectacular. That's when everybody talked about him as the Vezina Trophy winner."
The numbers bear out Biron's statement. Lundqvist was good last season in October and November, going 10-4-3 in 17 games, with a 2.11 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
But starting in December, Lundqvist ratcheted his play even higher, going 29-14-2 in 45 games, with a 1.95 GAA and .928 save percentage the rest of the way. That run enabled the Rangers to streak to the top of the conference.
Could he be about ready to hit that level again?
"You want to peak right now moving into the playoffs," Biron said. "I think that's the key with Henrik and the key with everything that he stands for is that he always puts today in his bubble and that's what he focuses on, and then he moves forward from that. He's been able to do that. To play three out of four, to play every other night … he's able to separate all of it and compartmentalize the games and be able to reach the right games at the right time and not think about a week on the road or a week past. That's a great compliment to his mental preparation."
Lundqvist clearly didn't have the start to the season he wanted, posting a losing record in seven games in January before starting to right himself a bit in February, but before this current hot streak, he was 14-13-2, with a 2.20 GAA and .927 save percentage -- strong numbers, but slightly off the dominant level he was at last season when he finished with a 1.97 GAA and .930 save percentage.
"He is just like everybody else, it took him a little bit of time to get going," coach John Tortorella said. "Really, other than the first few games of the year he has played very well."
So what's different for Lundqvist now? Nothing, it appears, other than the calendar.
"He's still the same guy," defenseman Anton Stralman told NHL.com. "He's obviously been playing really well for us and kept us in the game against the Islanders the other night. He's a world-class goalie, that's for sure. He's still the same guy. He has his routines on game days and all that. He's sticking to it. It's more normal than anything."
Normal for a player like Lundqvist, however, is elite-level status.
"It's almost like he's willing us to win," Brian Boyle told NHL.com. "He's back there and he's just not letting anything by him. That's what you need, I think, for this time of year and for a playoff run. Certainly in our situation, where we are, he needs to be our best player and I think he puts that pressure on himself. He's consistently one of the best. He's obviously a special, special talent. The way he approaches the game and what he does, the mental aspect, to be that consistent is something obviously he takes a lot of pride in and something he works very hard at. It's been … he's always there for us. We can count on him, and that's huge for our team."
"That Islanders game, if he wasn't standing on his head that game we would not have won that one," Stralman added. "He saved us two points right there. That's the kind of level he's at."
The key to keeping Lundqvist's efforts meaning something is for the rest of the team to match their goalie's level.
"We've all got to join him," Rick Nash told NHL.com. "He's the leader of this team. He's obviously a world-class goalie. Guys got to jump on board and follow him and bring our level up to his."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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