by Paul West
With last night’s series-ending win over the Capitals, the New York Rangers became the first team in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in consecutive postseasons. They also continued their record-obliterating fourteen-game run of one-goal playoff games, and made it past a Capitals team that was playing tough, inspired hockey. In their seven-game battle with the Caps, the Rangers overcame a heartbreaking buzzer-beater; seven games of dazzling play by Caps goalie Braden Holtby; they withstood the tenacity and timing of Joel Ward, and flashes of brilliance from Alex Ovechkin; and they came within 101 seconds of elimination before tying Game Six and winning, on the road, in overtime. In doing so, the Rangers demonstrated what’s emerging as their greatest attribute: their unflappability. all season, when faced with injury or adversity, the Rangers never seemed perturbed. This is a tone set by their mild-mannered coach, Alain Vigneault, and mirrored others in the Rangers’ locker room, many of whom displayed an air of calm that belied their NHL experience. But it was Henrik Lundqvist, their ace goaltender whose legend grows by the day, who most embodies their air of inner calm.
After his Game Six heroics over the weekend, Lundqvist looked as exhausted as he’s ever looked after a game; still, he expressed no worry about battle fatigue or Ovechkin’s now-infamous guarantee that they’d win the series. After good games or bad ones, he projects the same unflappability. When he battled rust and shoddy defense upon his return from a frightening vascular injury and onlookers had the temerity to wonder aloud if Cam Talbot (who had performed fantastically in his absence, to his credit) should supplant him as the Rangers’ ace, again King Henrik was unperturbed. Accordingly, when the Rangers go down a game or a goal, there’s rarely panic in their game.
Of course, Henrik’s air of supernatural calm is rendered more potent by the fact that he can generally back it up. To add to a resume that includes 300 NHL wins, a Vezina Trophy and a Gold Medal, Lundqvist joined Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy as the only NHL goalies to win six Game Sevens. He’s also the first to win five consecutive Game Sevens, and his Game Seven numbers are stupefying: a save percentage of .962 and a goals-against average of .97. With their ace behind them, the Rangers are very hard to put away and never seem out of a game or a series. They’re also beginning to look like a team that could go all the way.