- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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NEW YORK—His team didn’t give him much breathing room, but Henrik Lundqvist didn’t blink. For most of the game, the Rangers goalie had to keep his team knotted in a scoreless game. For the final 12-plus minutes, he had to protect a narrow one-goal lead to garner two critical playoff points.
No matter the circumstance, Lundqvist stood tall, stopping shot after shot, 22 of them in total, as he picked up his 10th shutout of the season in the Rangers 1-0 victory Tuesday. Lundqvist leads the league in shutouts and tied his career mark from 2007-08 with eight games left in the season.
“When I talked about it before the season, I knew it was going to be tough because you need a great team in front of you and you need some luck along the way. I have both, “ Lundqvist said. “I am happy with the way guys are playing right now. As I said the other day, it is exciting. I have been thinking about hockey all of the time. I check the standings—everything in my life is about getting ready for the next game.”
With backup goalie Martin Biron out indefinitely with a fractured collarbone, and new backup Chad Johnson having played in just five games in his career, Lundqvist has not been able to rest as the Rangers have made their push toward the playoffs. Even after suffering a minor neck injury against Montreal on March 18, Lundqvist has not missed any games.
He’s started 18 straight games for the Rangers and has been a key reason why the team has won five in a row and seven of its past eight. In this eight-game stretch, he’s posted two shutouts and only allowed more than three goals once. He’s stopped 218 of 234 shots (93.1 percent).
“To a man in the room we all know that he is the most important guy for us to win games,” forward Ryan Callahan said. “The big thing is that he is our guy and he is having a Vezina (Trophy) type of year.”
While he wasn’t particularly tested Tuesday, he made big saves down the stretch after the Panthers pulled their goalie to preserve the Rangers 1-0 lead. No other goalie in the league is within two shutouts of Lundqvist.
As the season winds down, Lundqvist still remembers the sting of missing the playoffs on the final day of the season. With his recent play, he’s trying to assure the Rangers they will get to the playoffs this season.
“I keep reminding myself everyday now that last year was one point,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t want to be there and I don’t think anyone else wants to be there. This is a game that could be the difference. We played a great game, lot of energy.”
33dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald