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Lundqvist ready mentally for another do-or-die game

by Dave Lozo

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- At this time of the season, the best part of a day off isn't always giving the body a break from the grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For Henrik Lundqvist, it's about turning off his brain whenever he can.

"I try to not think about the game. I just try to do other stuff," said Lundqvist, who along with the rest of the Rangers had Thursday completely off after losing 2-1 to the Capitals in Game 6 on Wednesday. "Today, I start thinking about tomorrow. I come here and practice and work on your game and maybe this afternoon I'll try to get away from it before I go to bed, then coming to the rink tomorrow, it's all business."

Lundqvist had his lightest workload this season since becoming the full-time starter in 2006-07. The 30-year-old made just 62 starts and showed how less can be more, posting career-bests in wins (39), goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.930). He has been ever better through 13 games in the postseason with a sparkling 1.73 GAA and .936 save percentage.

Henrik Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 7-6-2
GAA: 1.73 | SVP: 0.936
Feeling perhaps as good as he ever has physically, he believes the mental rest is more important than the physical rest heading in a decisive Game 7 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against the Caps (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

"Yeah, because we want to go for the long run and it's important to save energy when you can," Lundqvist said. "But already it feels like we've been going for a while and I just need to manage your focus. You can't be thinking hockey 24/7."

There has been little room for breaks of any kind for the top-seeded Rangers, who needed seven games to beat the Ottawa Senators in the first round and started their second-round series with the Capitals two days later. It was an educational experience for many Rangers, including Lundqvist, who hadn't won a Game 7 during their NHL careers.

Lundqvist may not have much Game 7 experience, but he won Olympic gold in 2006 with Team Sweden in a winner-take-all game in Turin.

"I think all those types of tournaments when you play with the national team, it comes down to one game, World Championships or Olympics, so the approach is similar," Lundqvist said. "It's all or nothing. It's pretty cool. You can go from high to low in a second and the opposite in a second. Whatever happens during the game, you try to stay cool."

Cool has been a word used to described Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, whose confidence in net as a 22-year-old has infused his teammates with a similar swagger. But it's hard to find a goaltender cooler than Lundqvist, who is perhaps the favorite to walk away with his first Vezina Trophy this year after being a finalist for the award three previous times.


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Lundqvist was never removed from a game during the regular season for poor play (he left a game in Edmonton in October with cramping), and he provides his teammates with the belief that he will always be there to make a big save, especially in a Game 7.

"There's so many things you can say about Henrik, but in my opinion, he's the best goalie in the League," Rangers forward Derek Stepan said. "Obviously I'm a little biased, but he makes so many big saves and competes so hard. It's really hard to get a puck by him even if you have a real clean look. If there's a breakdown, he steps in there and makes a big save for you. It definitely makes things a little bit easier knowing he's back there."

Lundqvist was there in Game 7 against the Senators, making 26 saves in a 2-1 victory. He stopped nine shots in the final 20 minutes and two glorious chances by Milan Michalek to preserve the lead and the series win.

Against the Capitals on Saturday, he expects the emotions to be similar to the ones he felt against Ottawa.

"Tomorrow will probably be the same feeling," Lundqvist said. "You don't think about what happened the first six games. You really don't. Yesterday, I had a different feeling because I was still disappointed over Game 6. Today, I think more and more about tomorrow. So whatever happens before that doesn't mean nothing.

"It's important that we control our emotions. It means a lot to everybody and you're so excited. It's important to stay cool and make good decisions under pressure. Because when you get under pressure, especially when you're jacked up like this, you don't want to go out there and do too much."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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