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Henrik Lundqvist motivated by goalie matchup against Carey Price

Playing best hockey of season for Rangers in series against Canadiens

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Henrik Lundqvist has been the measuring stick for other goaltenders almost since entering the NHL with the New York Rangers in 2005. Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price now carries that distinction.

Understanding how difficult it is for his teammates to score more than two goals in a game against Price has helped Lundqvist sharpen his focus and allowed him to play his best hockey of the season in the Eastern Conference First Round.

It's also provided a lot of motivation for Lundqvist.

 

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Canadiens series coverage]

 

"You want to measure yourself against the best players and goalies in the world," he said.

The Rangers and Canadiens are tied 2-2 going into Game 5 at Bell Centre on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG), in large part because the goalie matchup, at first thought to be leaning in Montreal's favor because of the disparate regular seasons Price and Lundqvist had, is about even.

Lundqvist played in 57 games and had the highest goals-against average (2.74) and lowest save percentage (.910) of any of his 12 NHL seasons. But through four games against the Canadiens, he's been vintage Lundqvist, with a 1.89 GAA and .944 save percentage, allowing eight goals on 142 shots.

"All I can say is [my focus] is back to where I want it to be," Lundqvist said.

Price has a 1.65 GAA and .942 save percentage (seven goals on 121 shots) in the series after having a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage in 62 regular-season games.

"[Lundqvist] competes like a crazy man and to be able to have an opportunity to go against one of the best in the world, that's right up his alley and he loves that," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "I know he enjoys it. I've been around him long enough. He loves this stuff."

Though having Price as his foil in the other net has helped Lundqvist, he sees his role in the series as bigger than just trying to beat the Candiens goaltender. When his focus is as razor sharp as it is, it's him vs. the puck and he's capable of blocking everything else out, including what the opposing goaltender is doing.

Video: MTL@NYR, Gm4: Lundqvist stones Gallagher in front

That's when he enjoys the pressure instead of feeling it.

"I know their team with him in net and the way they play they're not going to give up a lot," Lundqvist said. "You know that in the back of your head, but that can't change your approach. As a goalie you can never do more, you just have to approach it the same way and I think the key is to try to not do too much, just play your game. Playing a team with a pretty good system and a great goalie you know you don't have a lot of room for errors as a group and as a goalie.

"Is he one of the best? Yeah, for sure, but again I'm not going to change my approach or try to do more because I can't. You just got to believe in what you do and hope it will be enough."

MSG Network analyst and former Rangers goalie Steven Valiquette said Lundqvist is able to believe by having what he calls a next puck mentality.

"Anything could happen in the game; he gets over it by saying 'next puck,' and his mechanism is like, bang, he's on it," Valiquette said. "When he does that, that's his advantage because now he's better at tightening his focus than anybody. How do you beat Carey Price if I have to be basically perfect against him? My focus has to be perfect. When he has that next puck mentality, he can right away click it back on."

He's had it clicked on all series.

Lundqvist started with a 31-save shutout in a 2-0 win at Bell Centre in Game 1. He was the biggest reason the Rangers got to overtime in Game 2, making 54 saves (42 in regulation). The 58 shots were the most he's faced in any of his 120 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Lundqvist made 26 saves in Game 3 and never lost focus, but the Rangers as a team were not good and lost 3-1. He was locked in again in Game 4, when he made 23 saves in a 2-1 win.

Video: Clutch Performance: Lundqvist helps even series at 2

"Dialed in," Valiquette said.

How dialed in? Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw had a breakaway 10:50 into the first period looking to score the first goal of the game, but Lundqvist turned his attempt aside with a left pad save. He made it look easy too.

"The Rangers just ran the show up until that point, but if Henrik has a loose moment there mentally that game is now in peril, right?" Valiquette said. "He was just on it."

Next came a left pad save on Torrey Mitchell's partial breakaway at 16:15 of the first period. Mitchell had nowhere to shoot.

"If you look at that one and pause it, he is making the save while his entire body is hovering over the puck," Valiquette said. "That's when you know he's on it, because he hovers over the puck. It's like he had a string from his nose down right into the middle of the puck. That's when you know [Lundqvist] is on it. He's been saying it all year -- 'I want to be on my toes.' That's his game."

He's on it, which means the Rangers have a chance to beat Price and the Canadiens.

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