MONTREAL -- In a day dominated by goaltending headlines, with the city of Montreal in a widespread panic at the news of Carey Price's series-ending injury, New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist rendered the issue moot.
Because if Lundqvist continues to play as he has, it does not matter who is between the pipes for the Habs.
Whether the Montreal Canadiens go with 24-year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski again or opt for regular backup Peter Budaj in Game 3 is irrelevant. Heck, even if Price were to undergo some sort of miraculous recovery, it probably wouldn’t make a difference.
When Lundqvist plays like “The King,” as he did Monday night in Game 2, making a whopping 40 saves to lead the Rangers to a 3-1 win and 2-0 series lead, there is little hope for an opposing team.
That sense of futility was on display after the game, when Habs coach Michel Therrien essentially threw up his arms in recognition of Lundqvist’s postseason prowess.
“The reason we lost the game was Lundqvist,” Therrien said. “Lundqvist was phenomenal. Phenomenal. [He] stole the game.”
The 32-year-old Lundqvist was superb for the Blueshirts, especially when the team was swarmed in their own end by a Canadiens team that came out with the sort of desperation and desire that was conspicuously absent from Game 1. He allowed the Rangers to escape the first period with a 2-1 lead. He was again flawless in the third, preserving a two-goal lead when the Habs buzzed the net on a 6-on-4 in the final five minutes of the game.
To think, it was only a few days ago that Lundqvist was getting peppered, not with shots, but with persistent questions about his struggles at the Bell Centre.
Those questions have since ceased.
In recording his playoff career-high fifth consecutive win, Lundqvist has posted an impeccable 1.20 goals-against average and .964 save percentage during that span. His stellar .934 save percentage this postseason ranks first in the NHL.
“I just don’t know what to say anymore. He's such a brick wall back there for us. When he’s making stops like that, you get a ton of confidence off of it,” Chris Kreider said.
And as good as Lundqvist has been, his performance seems almost yawn-worthy for a Rangers squad that has seen it countless times before.
“I think this is pretty vintage Henrik. This is just how he plays,” Kreider said. “You talk about relishing this, he’s just such a competitor. He’s so consistent and plays so well in every game, but the bigger the game, and he really steps up.”
Whether it’s a glove save, a scramble in front, or a diving stop, Lundqvist has been capable of gobbling pretty much everything that comes his way. His steadiness has aided the Rangers’ even-keel demeanor, a mindset that has become even more critical following an emotionally trying week and a half.
But that measured approach belies the type of burning passion Lundqvist harbors at taking home hockey’s ultimate prize, a Stanley Cup. After a regular season in which Lundqvist set franchise records in both all-time wins and shutouts, he is still chasing down the big trophy, the one that matters.
The Rangers came so close in 2012, the year he took home the Vezina hardware for his exceptional play, but it was a brush with triumph that left him yearning for more. Lundqvist reflected on that run while at the podium following Monday’s win. He showed a sincere regret that both he, and the Rangers, had not been able to find that extra gear. The Rangers lost in six games to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals. He doesn’t want another chance at a Stanley Cup to slip by.
“My goal is to leave it all out there. If it’s going to be enough, we’ll see,” Lundqvist said. “But you don’t want to sit at the end of the year and feel like you had more to give. That’s what I felt a little bit the last time we were in the conference final. We didn’t reach our full potential, and it was extremely disappointing to end the season like that.”
Lundqvist doesn’t want to wrestle with those feelings this summer.
“That’s my goal right now, to really try to reach my full potential and inspire teammates and everybody that’s helping us right now to kind of reach that level and see how far it takes us,” he said.
The Habs will have some questions to answer in the coming days, namely how to surmount a 2-0 series deficit and who will be in net to backstop that effort.
But right now, there is only really one question to be answered.
If Lundqvist continues to play like this, can the Rangers really be stopped?