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Henrik Lundqvist gets chance to be great again

Rangers goalie aims to rebound from inconsistent season, excel in Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Three words.

"I want more," New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.

That's all Lundqvist needed to say when asked for his thoughts on his season to date. Three words that mean so much he said them again, and then again.

 

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"Obviously I want more," Lundqvist said. "The work I put in, the preparation I put in to each game and practice, I want more."

He didn't get enough this season. It bothers him.

"There have just been [inconsistent] stretches throughout the year," he said.

He has a chance to change that starting with the Eastern Conference First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens beginning at Bell Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN). That's what the Stanley Cup Playoffs represent to Lundqvist in this emotional and somewhat disappointing season.

It's a chance to be great again.

"It motivates you to come to practice here and work even harder and work on everything you can possible to improve your game," Lundqvist said.

Though far from perfect, this season was far from bad for Lundqvist. He won more than 30 games for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons and helped the Rangers get to the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.

Lundqvist fondly talks about the good moments, like the 31 games that he allowed two or fewer goals. He won 25 of them.

He remembers how he came out of slumps in December and January.

Lundqvist was benched for four straight games from Dec. 8-13 and allowed three goals in winning his next three starts. He allowed 16 goals in a three-game losing streak from Jan. 13-17, but responded by winning eight of the next 10 games with a .939 save percentage.

He broke Dominik Hasek's record for most wins by a European-born goalie (389) on Dec. 31, won his 400th NHL game on Feb. 11, and moved past John Vanbiesbrouck, Mike Vernon, Hasek, Chris Osgood and Grant Fuhr into 10th place on the League's all-time wins list with 405.

"I feel like I've done a lot of good things," Lundqvist said.

You could sense the "but" coming as he spoke.

"But the blowouts," he said. "That kind of ticks off some of the good feeling."

There were many.

He allowed four or more goals in 14 of his 55 starts, including five or more five times. He allowed seven once. He finished the season with a .910 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against average.

His save percentage never has been as low in a single season, his GAA never as high.

Lundqvist allowed four or more goals 15 times last season, but he also started 64 games, and had a .920 save percentage and 2.48 GAA. The odd rough game was easier to take with those numbers next to his name.

"I had a lot of good games [this season] that I'm really happy about to help the team to win, but then there have been games when you've been hurt pretty bad with a lot of goals, more than recent years," Lundqvist said. "Obviously that affects the overall feeling about the season."

Lundqvist has to put it behind him. He has a new opportunity to put on hold the growing perception that he's an aging goalie, now 35, who is showing the wear of 12 NHL seasons, who isn't the same as he used to be, who isn't elite anymore, who can't win the Stanley Cup.

Some of that might be nonsense. The Stanley Cup part, that's undeniable.

Video: NYR@WSH: Lundqvist turns away Oshie with pad stop

Lundqvist has had it hanging over his head for quite some time, and especially since losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. At first he was a good goalie on an up-and-coming team. Then he was an elite goalie on a contending team.

What he is today still has to be determined.

Lundqvist even plays differently than he used to, further out of his crease to get to deflections quicker and see through traffic better. It's a change he made in December, when he sat for those four straight games.

"You try to adjust your game to what's going on in front of you," he said. "When you look at the 12 years I've been here the game hasn't been played exactly the same way so there is always something you need to correct and adjust."

It's been a learning experience.

"If everything stayed the same it would be easier and probably boring too, but that's just the way it is," he said. "The game changes."

The feeling inside the Rangers dressing room has not.

"Since I've been here in our room there hasn't been a concern for our goalie," defenseman Marc Staal said.

Said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, "I know he's going to be fine. He's proved it in the past. It's just a matter of him finding his groove and finding his rhythm."

Lundqvist appears to have found it again. He missed eight games because of a muscle strain in his hip, allowed 10 goals in his first two games back but 11 in his past four for a .905 save percentage.

And that's with the Rangers leaving holes in front of him to allow for Grade-A scoring chances.

"The key for me is try not to do too much, let the game come to me instead of chasing it," Lundqvist said. "I've been moving well and feeling the puck pretty good out there, it's just been some good opportunities for teams to get some goals on us."

Staal said that falls on himself and the rest of the skaters.

"He takes care of his own business and what he does and our team feeds off him," Staal said. "It's our job as players to give him the best opportunity to be the difference.

"He can be."

He better be.

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