NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist reacted on instinct. He threw his stick, tossed up his blocker, and nearly did a cartwheel.
The acrobatics were not only necessary, they were game-changing.
Lundqvist's remarkable, highlight-reel blocker save on Montreal Canadiens forward Thomas Vanek's deflected shot at 15:15 of the second period in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final preserved what at the time was a 0-0 game.
The fantastic save loomed larger less than three minutes later, when Rangers forward Dominic Moore scored what turned into the only goal of the game in a 1-0 series-clinching win for the Rangers, who earned their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1994.
Lundqvist finished with 18 saves for his ninth career shutout in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, tying him with Mike Richter for first place on the Rangers' all-time list for most postseason shutouts.
Based on the moment and the stakes, no save that Lundqvist has made in his NHL career is bigger than the one he made on Vanek.
Lundqvist modestly said he got a little lucky on the save.
He probably did, but he's the one who read Vanek's move and the puck coming off of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi's stick. He's the one who tossed his stick on purpose so he could whip his blocker up faster. He's the one who whipped up his legs just in case the puck went high.
"Same thing you did," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault responded when asked what he thought when Lundqvist made that save. "It was a spectacular save. You've talked about being able to attack the puck or find the puck. That's what [Lundqvist] did there. We were playing really well and needed a save. We got it."
Moore scored 2:52 later. Lundqvist needed to make five saves in the third period to preserve the win and send the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Final.
If he didn't make that save on Vanek, the story from Game 6 might be completely different.
"It's one of those kind of things that stand out from the game and stand out from the series," Moore said. "Kind of like his third-period performance against Pittsburgh in Game 7 [of the Eastern Conference Second Round], that save stands out from this series."