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Rangers goalie Lundqvist regains world-class form

by Dan Rosen

MONTREAL -- Remember when New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was plagued by his own play in October, November, December and even early in January? Remember when he looked pedestrian and barely a legitimate No. 1 NHL goalie, let alone a superstar?

Seems so long ago, right? Seems like forever, in fact.

Not to Lundqvist. He remembers it well.

Lundqvist can describe the strange, nervous feeling he had early in the regular season when things were going so bad and he couldn't figure out how to fix them.

He can tell you about the saves he didn't make, the saves he always used to make. He can tell you about his positioning, how he was challenging shooters well above the blue paint, something he absolutely never does when he's on his game.

He had a 2.78 goals-against average and .905 save percentage after giving up five goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 3.

Why is this relevant now, on a night when he was absolutely spectacular in making 40 saves against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre to lift the Rangers to a 3-1 win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final?

It is because Lundqvist thought about nights like this when he was trying to pick up the pieces of his game in the late fall and early winter.

It is because Lundqvist saw himself in games like the two he played in Montreal, some of the most important he's ever played in his life, when he was giving up almost three goals per game, including four or more in nine of his first 31 starts.

"I told myself things were going so bad that things are going to turn around," Lundqvist said. "You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your teammates. It was definitely a tough stretch, probably the toughest I had in my career, but things started turning around for me in about December and after that I came back to basics playing a very simple game and started getting results. But you definitely have to see yourself do well before you can do it because you have to see yourself go somewhere. That's what I did."

Lundqvist is now six wins away from completing the one challenge still left out there for him. If you want to stretch the argument further, you might be able to get away with saying Lundqvist is six wins away from the Hall of Fame.

He's a world-class goalie with a gold medal to wear around his neck and years left in his career, including seven on a new $59.5 million contract that kicks in next season. If he wins the Stanley Cup, what's to say that isn't enough to get him into the Hall of Fame at some point?

That's obviously too far down the road for Lundqvist, or anyone really, to look at or focus on. He's two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career.

He got within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 as well, but Lundqvist and the Rangers lost in six games to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.

Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 10-6
GAA: 1.93 | SVP: 0.934
He still remembers the regret. He's still motivated by it.

"When I sit down and collect my thoughts, my goal here is to leave it all out there," Lundqvist said. "If it's going to be enough we'll see, but you don't want to sit there at the end of the year and feel like you had more to give. That's what I felt a little bit the last time we were in the conference final. We didn't reach our full potential and it was extremely disappointing to end the season like that. If you go out and play your absolute best and it's not enough, it's easier to accept; it's still tough, but at least you want to feel like you left it all out there because you don't get that many chances. That's my goal right now, to really try to reach my full potential and inspire teammates. Everybody is helping us right now to kind of reach that level and see how far it takes us."

Lundqvist will have to be the one that gets the Rangers there. So far so good.

He has stopped 60 of 63 shots the Canadiens have thrown his way, turning what was his personal house of horrors, Bell Centre, into his new haven.

Lundqvist was 0-3-1 with a .862 save percentage and 4.63 GAA in four previous appearances in Montreal's home arena. Prior to the series he hadn't won there since March 17, 2009, or played there since Jan. 15, 2012.

Now he heads home with the Rangers on Tuesday morning carrying a 1.50 GAA and .952 save percentage in the conference final.

It wasn't that long ago that numbers like that in games this big seemed far-fetched, ridiculous to even consider.

They weren't. Lundqvist told himself as much.

He was right.


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