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Rangers' success starts with the goalie

by Dan Rosen
Not surprisingly, Henrik Lundqvist has been the New York Rangers' MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs through two games.

The All-Star goalie has stopped 67 of 70 shots, including all 35 the Washington Capitals threw on net Saturday in Game 2 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal for his fourth career postseason shutout.

The goalie as the best player is the formula Rangers coach John Tortorella has always believed is best for any team to win. It worked for him in Tampa Bay in 2004 when Nikolai Khabibulin led the Lighting to the franchise's only Stanley Cup championship.

"It's a no-brainer," Tortorella said after the Rangers' optional skate Sunday at their training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. "Your goaltender can give you confidence. Forget about the playoffs, when you're building a team and you're trying to get some young guys to understand how to play, every mistake can't end up in your net.

"I lived with it both ways in Tampa," Tortorella continued. "We had a dynamite goalie (Khabibulin) that covered up a lot of mistakes when we were trying to grow as a team. When you lose that and you're trying to build a team and every mistake ends up in your net, it knocks you down. I've always felt your goaltender is your mind as a team. How he's playing is how your team will react off of him."

Lundqvist has no doubt been phenomenal, but Tortorella had notable praise for four other players who have been downright magnificent against the Caps: defensemen Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, and wingers Markus Naslund and Ryan Callahan.

Redden and Rozsival have taken a lot of heat in New York this season for their unsteady play, but they have been the Rangers' best pair, and starting midway through Game 1 have been on the ice nearly every time Alex Ovechkin is out there for the Caps.

Ovechkin doesn't have a goal yet and the two defensemen have combined for more than 105 minutes of ice time so far.

"They've played some good hockey," Tortorella said. "If we want to keep competing everybody has to raise their level, and I think they're doing that here."

Naslund and Tortorella didn't have great harmony when the coach took over for Tom Renney late in the regular season, but so far Naslund has been one of the Rangers' top forwards against the Caps.

He's had the primary assist on both of the game-winners and also scored a goal in Game 1. He averaged 15:44 of ice time in Washington.

"I just think he's let his game go," Tortorella said. "When I first started with him, I think there were problems with the tempo, the speed we were trying to go. All I know is he's skating much better and I think he's much more confident with the puck."

Callahan, who scored the game's only goal Saturday, has been the most talked about Rangers' skater in the series, a great sign for a young player who is going to grow with a franchise.

"The thing that impressed me about Ryan when he first came up and started playing with the team (last season), he fit right in, looked like he belonged," Tortorella said. "You can tell by the ice time he's getting he's being put in every spot. He's a big guy for us."

Nobody, though, is bigger than the goalie.

"The most important thing when you're the goalie, you want to feel the trust from the guys in the room," Lundqvist said. "I feel that."

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