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Lundqvist gets hero's welcome, win in return

by Dan Rosen
GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- They chanted his name, gave him a standing ovation, awarded him a certificate that made him an ambassador to the city, and even played the song "You're a Superstar" after he made a key save halfway through the second period.

Henrik Lundqvist was playing the role of the opposing goalie Friday at Scandinavium, but he was not a visitor. He never will be in Gothenburg.

Lundqvist played seven seasons in a Frolunda Indians uniform until making his way across the Atlantic and becoming a star in the Big Apple. After an emotional ceremony that had the goalie near tears, Lundqvist gave Friday's sold-out crowd a glimpse of what they've been missing, and what New Yorkers have been admiring, since he made the bold move to the NHL six years ago.

Frolunda had its chances, but even with the Rangers icing a lineup that included several players destined to be black aces in April, Lundqvist, wearing an "A" on his sweater, was so on his game that his old team couldn't beat what was a shell of his current team. Goals from Kris Newbury in the first period, Michael Del Zotto and Erik Christensen in the second, and Mike Rupp in the third helped guide the Rangers to a 4-2 victory.

Lundqvist, though, was the only star on a night he made 32 saves that all pale in comparison to the sensation of being greeted with a hero's homecoming welcome.

"I've been thinking about this for a long time," Lundqvist said during his third round of postgame interviews. "Over the summer I saw all the boys and this last week it's been a lot, and almost every hour the last couple of days. I wasn't sure how I would react to it, and it was very emotional. I didn't cry, but I was close.

"I will never forget this."

Lundqvist had trouble focusing in the first period because of the whirlwind pregame ceremony that was basically a celebration of his career, including his championship season as the Indians goalie in 2005.

Shortly after Newbury gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 2:24 into the game, Lundqvist allowed a rebound goal to Jonathan Johnson.

"You just start to think about all the things you've been through," Lundqvist said. "I came here as a 16 year old. I started following this team when I was 5 -- my dad took me to my first game and it's been my dream to play here. Then you're out there and you realize I'm playing against my twin brother, against Frolunda with the New York Rangers and I get THIS before the game. It's just a lot to take in all at once.

"Usually I'm very focused going into the game and know what to do, but here there were so many things in my head in the first period that I felt very uncomfortable playing," he added. "I tried to enjoy it, but I was nervous and excited at the same time."

He finally settled into a groove, and wound up turning in one of his vintage performances.

From the second period on, Lundqvist saw every puck that came his way. He was particularly sensational in the opening five minutes of the second, when the Rangers had to kill off four straight penalties.

He made eight saves to help the Rangers come through unscathed despite facing 5-on-3s of 73, 19 and 48 seconds thanks to minor penalties by Dylan McIlrath, Brandon Prust, Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon.

Soon after Erixon was released from the box and the Rangers finally had five skaters on the ice again, Del Zotto made Frolunda pay for not cashing in all the power plays. Mats Zuccarello found him cutting down from the right point and Del Zotto rifled in his first goal of the preseason to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead with 14:36 to play.

Christensen scored what turned into the game-winner a little over six minutes later on a similar looking shot that also was a result of a pretty pass from Zuccarello.

Frolunda cut the deficit to 3-2 on a goal by former Flyer Mika Pyorala with 7:56 to play, but Rupp scored with 3:12 left and, for perhaps the final time, Lundqvist closed out a win at Scandinavium.

He couldn't have done it without a strong effort from his teammates. Lundqvist was ecstatic to see the fight they gave on his night.

"There were a lot of young players on the ice today fighting for a spot, and it was great to see how we played," Lundqvist said. "It means a lot to me and I told them that after the game."

The guys were not only thrilled to be a part of his big night, but they also wanted to win one for their goalie.

Brian Boyle said it was discussed by many of players as the pre-game ceremony was going on.

"Everybody is trying to make their mark and put their best foot forward to start the season, so it was an important game for all of us, but there was an added motivation for Hanky," Boyle said. "He's done so much for us. There are nights when he stands on his head and wins us games, so this was special to him and it was important to us because it was special for him."

Boyle admitted he had goose bumps when Lundqvist was being honored by the City of Gothenburg and cheered loudly by the fans he once played for. Erixon, one of two other Swedes in the Rangers lineup (Carl Hagelin), said it was special to see how important Lundqvist is to the people in Gothenburg.

"Obviously I'm new, but I know what Hank means to the New York Rangers and hockey in New York -- to see it over here, it's crazy," Rupp said. "I think it just shows what he means to the game over here and what he's done already over here. It's awesome. He's an ambassador to the game and he's on our team, so it feels good."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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