New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist admitted to having a flashback Sunday afternoon while he was waiting for the shootout to begin against the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was transported back to the last time he played a shootout in April in Philadelphia. It was the final game of the 2009-10 regular season, with the winner going on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the loser going home.
That memorable moment is inscribed in each team's history now, as Danny Briere and Claude Giroux beat Lundqvist in that shootout and the Flyers rode the momentum gained in their dramatic win all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers were left to trudge home for an earlier start to their summer than they wanted.
What Lundqvist took from the game -- once the initial shock of his season being over had passed -- was a cruel but important lesson.
It's one Lundqvist has carried with him as he's put together what could be the best of his six NHL seasons. Included in those results is a new approach to the shootout that has helped the Rangers win a League-high nine post-overtime tiebreakers.
"I think I learned a little bit about this last year," Lundqvist said. "Try to be more 'stay in the moment,' and focus on what I have to do, rather than the consequences. Maybe last year we were thinking about, 'If I don't make the save, we're out.' Now, it's just make the save and that's it, deal with the consequences after. I felt like I was in the right mindset going into (Sunday's) shootout."
He certainly was in that right mindset Sunday, as he stopped Nikolay Zherdev and Giroux to improve to a personal-best 7-3 in the shootout this season. His .848 save percentage also is a career-high, and third in the League among goalies who have faced at least 15 shootout attempts. Not bad considering the 46 shootout attempts he's faced are the most in the League.
It's a marked difference from last season, when Lundqvist was 3-3 in shootouts with a paltry .682 save percentage. Included in that was the last-day debacle against Philadelphia.
"I think it's important for a goalie, especially me, not to think about consequences when you're playing, even during regulation," Lundqvist said. "You can't think about, if I don't make the save it's going to be tough or we're going to lose. Just have to think about stopping the puck. Going into the shootout it's so important to stay in the moment and focus the right way. That's just being patient and doing what I have to do."
Rangers goalie coach Benoit Allaire said he's never really spoken to Lundqvist about this new approach. In his mind, Lundqvist didn't have to change anything.
"I think it's more himself," Allaire told NHL.com. "He's right now playing day to day. He just wants to be the best he can be. It's his own thing. If you watch Henrik Lundqvist in the past, every crunch time, at end of the season or playoff time -- in Sweden, too -- he's there all the time. I think his preparation is outstanding."
Playing in the moment has helped Lundqvist in every facet of his game. His 34 wins are tied for seventh in the League and not far off his career-best of 38. His .924 save percentage is the best of his career and his 2.26 goals-against average is just off his personal-best of 2.24; both numbers rank him in the top six in the League. His 11 shutouts lead the League and are the most in a season since Martin Brodeur had 12 in 2006-07.
While shootout wins might have been diminished with the change in tiebreaker rules in the standings, the two points Lundqvist has helped the Rangers get could be the difference between extending their season beyond 82 games and scheduling early tee times.
"It's such a big point," Lundqvist said of Sunday's win. "Every point is huge for us. But especially with what happened last year, you don't want to have it happen twice, two years in a row. This could be the difference -- who knows?"
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK