Having agreed to a contract that will make him the NHL's highest-paid goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist must now concentrate on getting the New York Rangers into the playoffs.
|Henrik Lundqvist hopes to celebrate his new contract by ending a personal three-game schneid. (NHLI via Getty Images)
Lundqvist will try to avoid his third straight loss at Madison Square Garden as the Rangers (28-24-7) meet the surging Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
A Vezina Trophy finalist in each of his first two seasons, Lundqvist agreed to a six-year deal on Thursday worth $41.25 million. He could have been a restricted free agent on July 1.
"I have loved it here since day one, and (Rangers management) knows that," Lundqvist told the Rangers' official Web site. "There was no reason to wait for the summer. I wanted to get this done as quickly as possible."
After winning at least 30 games each of his first two seasons, Lundqvist has been inconsistent despite an overall record of 24-21-5 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a career-high seven shutouts.
Lundqvist won a season-high four straight starts in mid-November, but hasn't put together more than two consecutive wins since then. He's also been tagged for a total of eight goals in his last two games, home losses to Los Angeles and Anaheim on Feb. 5 and 7, respectively.
The 24-year-old Swede has not played since that loss to the Kings, with the eight days off being twice as long as his previous longest stretch between appearances. Lundqvist likely spent some of the break focused on his father, who is recovering in Sweden from a brain aneurysm.
|Ryan Miller is one big reason the Sabres have vaulted from 14th to seventh in the Eastern Conference. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
"There is a lot maybe going on," Lundqvist said. "When you're here or when you play a game, you don't really focus on what goes on around you, whether it's a contract or your dad is sick or whatever it is.
On Jan. 16, Lundqvist earned his first career win in four starts against the Sabres, making 23 saves in a 2-1 win at MSG.
The Rangers are tied with Boston for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and have lost three of four including a 3-2 overtime defeat to Washington on Sunday. Backup Stephen Valiquette - who blanked Philadelphia the previous day - allowed Mike Green's goal 23 seconds into the extra session.
Sean Avery scored for the Rangers along with former Sabre Chris Drury, giving him five goals and an assist in six games this month. Drury leads New York with only 18 goals and is third with 40 points.
The Sabres (28-21-8), meanwhile, have gone 8-0-2 in their last 10 games to move from 14th in the East to seventh. They got 35 saves from All-Star Ryan Miller and Paul Gaustad scored midway through the third period of a 1-0 victory over Toronto on Wednesday.
"It feels good, but the job's not done," said Miller, who posted his third shutout this season and seventh of his career. "We're excited for the possibility to keep climbing. Our goal isn't eighth or seventh, sixth is the next spot."
In his last 10 starts, Miller is 8-0-1 and has allowed just 15 goals for a 1.53 GAA. Despite losing to the Rangers last month, Miller is 5-1-1 with a 2.38 GAA in seven career starts against them.
Jason Pominville, who scored for Buffalo in the loss to the Rangers last month, had his nine-game point streak snapped Wednesday. He has 16 goals and 35 assists for a team-high 51 points.
Buffalo is 5-1-1 in its last seven visits to New York City.