WASHINGTON -- When Henrik Lundqvist left Verizon Center on Friday after yielding an overtime goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, he felt differently about how he had played than in the same situation after Game 2.
"The last couple of years, I've started to focus more and more on my own game and not so much about the team game," Lundqvist said after a 5-0 win in Game 7 Monday night. "I can't really control what we're doing out there. That's been helping me the last few years. Obviously in big games, if I can break it down to just what I need to do it is going to help. You're definitely nervous and you're feeling the pressure. As long as I'm focused on what I have to do, it is going to help me, but the way we've been playing, especially the last two or three games, as a goalie it is a great feeling. You feel the confidence from them, and hopefully they feel my confidence as well."
That goal Ribeiro scored to end Game 5 and give the Capitals a 3-2 series in the lead proved to be their last. Lundqvist pitched back-to-back shutouts on back-to-back days, as he stopped the final 72 shots he faced in the series.
The Rangers needed every one of them in Game 6, and then after a fast start by the Capitals in Game 7, New York asserted control in a fashion the Rangers had not been able to attain in any of the four postseason series between these clubs in the past five seasons.
"I think Hank made a couple of really good saves early on. I don't think we played badly, but they certainly had some opportunities," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He was really good, but ... the team was also good, too. I have to give the team some credit. They played hard in front of him. But Henrik is our backbone and for us to continue to play and get through this series, your goaltender has to be. We certainly know we're going to get that from Henrik."
The Rangers will continue their playoff run in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins. Game 1 will be at TD Garden on Thursday night.
Lundqvist has been the Rangers' most valuable player for years, and while he's always been very good or better in the postseason, this series against the Capitals may have been his best.
The Capitals had one of the most potent offensive teams in the League this season, a return to form from their days as a premier offensive club in the days when Bruce Boudreau was the coach. Still, Lundqvist shut Washington out for 60 minutes three times, yielding only an overtime goal in Games 2, 6 and 7 combined.
His final numbers featured 12 goals against in seven games, including only three for the NHL's No. 1 power-play team in the regular season. Alex Ovechkin, who lead the League in goals and is a Hart Trophy finalist, did not register a point in the final five contests of the series.
"No, not against this team," Lundqivst said when asked if thought he could record back-to-back shutouts. "They have so much skill. Obviously the first two games, I felt like, ‘This is going to be a challenge.' They go across a lot. They have great shooters, but the more played the better we played as a team and the more confident we got. As a goalie, when you feel that confidence from the group, it is a lot easier to play."
The Bruins will present another stiff challenge for Lundqvist and the Rangers. Boston did not boast the offensive prowess during the season that Washington did, but the Bruins are deep and talented up front and can score in bunches as they proved against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Boston is also a better goal prevention team than the Capitals. There could be an expectation of more low-scoring contests like the two 1-0s and one 2-1 contests in this past series.
It could put more pressure on Lundqvist, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner and 2013 finalist.
"I think I was more confident last year because more things were going our way. This year we really had to work hard to get it done," Lundqvist said. "I still think we can improve and do a lot of things better. And we have to if we want beat Boston. That's going to be a tough series. The great thing here is we managed to win the series without playing our absolute best. Going down the stretch, we really improved as a group and personally as well. I think we'll know that playing Boston now, we'll have to step it up even more."