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Lundqvist responds for Rangers with vintage performance against Canadiens

Goalie quickly bounces back after being pulled in Toronto on Saturday

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist needed all of this. Badly.

"It was very important," Lundqvist said.

Another loss could have created a thick air of uncertainty about the ability of the 35-year-old goalie to still be among the best in the NHL. That would have risked bleeding into his confidence and eroding it. It would have put at risk the confidence his teammates have in him to be the same goalie he has been for a dozen years in New York.

That doesn't seem like a realistic concern now, not after Lundqvist's vintage 34-save shutout performance in a 2-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Whether he played better because his teammates played better in front of him or vice versa doesn't matter. The Rangers won for the first time this season with their most important player putting in a First Star performance.

"I know how to play and I know with the right type of game we're going to win," Lundqvist said. "You've got to believe that."

Sometimes you need proof, though.

So, Lundqvist needed to get back into the net Sunday after a dreadful all-around performance at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, when the defensive structure in front of him eroded and he allowed five goals on 17 shots before getting pulled after 20 minutes. The Rangers lost 8-5.

Video: MTL@NYR: Lundqvist stones Plekanec to protect lead

Ondrej Pavelec was initially supposed to start Sunday, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, after consulting with goalie coach Benoit Allaire, decided to give the game to Lundqvist, who never lobbied for it but instead quietly hoped he would get the chance.

"That's the good thing about hockey, you get an opportunity to redeem yourself pretty quickly instead of walking around for a few days and think about it, analyze it too much," Lundqvist said. "It was important to get back in there and see the action and the structured game and execute it the way we did."

Lundqvist needed the breaks, including two disallowed goals, one for kicking the puck into the net and one for goalie interference thanks to a successful coach's challenge, that he received in the first 10 minutes to settle down, find himself, rediscover his razor-sharp focus and attention to detail.

It wasn't a pretty start for the Rangers or Lundqvist, whose fumbles led to the disallowed goals by Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber.

"Sometimes, I don't know, maybe you're waiting for a break," Lundqvist said. "A lot of times you need to earn it by working hard and making good decisions. But when you feel like things are moving in the right direction, I feel like maybe everybody took a deep breath and it was, 'OK, let's play our game here, let's not try to do too much.' That goes for me as well.

"Just believe in your game, believe in your game plan. When you stick to it and execute it the way you should, you'll be in good shape."

Still, Lundqvist needed a lead, something he hadn't played with in the first two games of the season, a 4-2 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday and then that self-proclaimed embarrassing loss in Toronto.

He got it when Brady Skjei scored off a shot that ping-ponged off Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Weber before sliding into the net at 17:25 of the first period.

Video: MTL@NYR: Skjei scores goal off defender's skate

"He did what we're used to having," Vigneault said. "He gives us a chance. He makes the right save at the right time."

Lundqvist needed one of those to hold onto the lead, which is why his sweeping glove save on Artturi Lehkonen's 17-foot snap shot from between the hash marks at 7:39 of the second period was so crucial. Lundqvist looked much sharper in the game after making that save, his 15th.

But he also needed his teammates to play with structure in front of him. The Rangers won't win too many games if they don't. They found that out the hard way against the Maple Leafs.

"It's a big difference when there is a lot of work under structure," Lundqvist said. "It was a lot of work [Saturday] and it was not easy, but [Sunday night] guys were so good at being on the right side of the puck, putting pressure on the guy coming in to take that shot. As a goalie, it's a lot easier to read. It felt really good to get that support. The guys worked really hard. We wanted to play a solid hockey game.

"For me, every period a couple extra saves was enough. It was not like you needed to make eight or nine big ones. It was a couple extra here and there and the rest the guys took care of it."

Video: MTL@NYR: Lundqvist stops flurry of Canadiens' shots

In the end, though, Lundqvist needed a win. A good performance with structure in front of him wouldn't have elicited the same emotion, the same confidence had it come in a loss of any kind.

"It definitely felt good to bounce back like this," Lundqvist said, "and to have that support in front of me was great."

Lundqvist needs more of all of it, because the Rangers desperately need him to play like this.

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