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Lundqvist's Strong Start Leading Way for Blueshirts

by Matthew Calamia / New York Rangers

When looking for reasons as to why the Rangers have won their opening three games of the 2015-16 season, look no further than the man who has been between the pipes for nearly a decade.

Henrik Lundqvist was stellar Saturday night in the Rangers' 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. While the score was heavily favored in the Rangers' way, it was thanks in large part to No. 30, who had his shutout bid ended at 4:35 of the third period and finished the night with 37 saves. Lundqvist has made 31 or more saves in each of the first three games of the season.

"It's important that we set the tone early and build something positive," Lundqvist said after the victory, the team's first home-opening win since 2009. "Our game plan — we know what we need to do. I think these first three games, they haven't been perfect but we have been finding ways to make the team pay when they make mistakes."

While the games have not been perfect, Lundqvist has been outstanding, especially Saturday when he was peppered with shots by the Blue Jackets. Lundqvist biggest save came on Ryan Johansen, when Lundqvist was caught out of the net but somehow managed to get his stick in front of Johansen's shot while diving back in front of his net.

Is this the best start to a season for Lundqvist? While just three games in, in terms of record, it's the best start No. 30 has had since the 2009-10, when, after dropping the season-opener, Lundqvist ran off six straight victories.

Lundqvist started this season by stopping 32 of 34 shots as the Rangers defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions on the road in Chicago on Opening Night. Then on Friday Lundqvist excelled with 31 saves in the wild 4-2 come-from-behind win in Columbus. Saturday's masterpiece put an exclamation point to his fine first week.

But for Lundqvist's teammates, these types of performances are par for the course.

"He always plays phenomenal," J.T. Miller said of Lundqvist. "It's pretty rare he brings an A-minus night. He always brings it. Tonight he made some incredible saves. It's pretty standard for him. It definitely could have gotten ugly there, the game could have gotten closer, but he made sure when we had our lapses, he had our back."

So what could be credited to this start? Lundqvist said it was a parting message from head coach Alain Vigneault at the end of last year's campaign.

"It was hard not to [get off to a good start] when AV left me with the message, the last thing he told me before I went back to Sweden was 'you have to be better when we start,'" Lundqvist told reporters. "That stayed with me the entire summer and coming back to camp."

The 33-year-old netminder said he and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire put together a plan over the summer to help him get off to a good start. Through three games, that plan is working to perfection.

Vigneault agrees.

"He's certainly been our best player since the start of the season," the bench boss said of Lundqvist. "You got to give full credit to Benoit Allaire. He got a plan together, we discussed it with Hank and obviously he's playing the way he's playing right now, the plan is falling into place.

"He played a very strong game again tonight and he's doing what a goaltender is supposed to do, give his team a chance to win."

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