Rangers ride Lundqvist to complete comeback
You could talk about Martin St. Louis and how the death of his mother, France, brought the New York Rangers closer together.
Or the Rangers suffering through, then snapping, an 0-for-36 skid on the power play.
Or how the Blueshirts limited Penguins center Sidney Crosby to one goal.
Or holding the Penguins to one power play marker.
But the true momentum-shifter, the true takeaway of this Stanley Cup second-round series will undoubtedly be Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Simply put, Lundqvist was spectacular, the best player on either team. He showed it again Tuesday when the Rangers defeated the Penguins, 2-1, in Game 7 at Consol Energy Center to finish the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
“He was OK,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault deadpanned.
When the Penguins' stars — specifically center Sidney Crosby — struggled to meet expectations, Lundqvist, who leads the Rangers in career wins and shutouts, exceeded them.
Not that he was hogging the credit.
“It's a combination of me fighting for the pucks and having guys in front, boxing guys out,” Lundqvist said. “I need to see the puck. It's a great feeling when you feel like we're on the same page.”
Lundqvist, who had a 4-1 record with a 1.35 goals-against average and .963 save percentage in five prior Game 7s, was in rare form Tuesday.
He finished with 35 saves, one more stunning than the next.
Arguably the best was the stop he made on Penguins winger James Neal from point-blank range late in the second period.
With about five minutes left in the third, Lundqvist stopped a flurry of at least four shots to preserve the Rangers' 2-1 lead.
“Those are the biggest saves I've seen him make since I've been here,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “Up one goal, five minutes left, we needed a big save there, and he made a bunch.”
The Penguins outshot the Rangers, 36-20, and held a 13-7 advantage in the third period, but that's when Lundqvist did some of his best work.
“Where they took their game to another level in the third period, our goaltender took his game to another level,” Vigneault said. “He was able to stop a barrage of opportunities. He was the difference in the game.”
This marked the second consecutive series the Penguins faced a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, but Lundqvist proved plenty more difficult to solve than Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky.
“King Henrik” improved to 10-2 all-time in elimination games and became the first goalie in NHL history to win five consecutive Game 7s.
“You need your goalie to make big saves, and obviously he made a handful of them,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Huge difference (Tuesday) was ‘Hankie.'”