Commentary

Lundqvist sets tone in Game 1

Goalie's shutout gives Rangers an early series lead over Brodeur's Devils

Updated: May 15, 2012, 2:39 AM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Even with his New York Rangers team on the power play early in the second period, Henrik Lundqvist could sense a shift in momentum during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils.

Knocking Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman off the puck behind the goal line, Devils rookie Adam Henrique connected with captain Zach Parise in front.

In a dizzying short-handed flurry, Parise ripped off three rapid-fire shots in the span of three seconds.

Lundqvist denied all three, preserving the scoreless tie.

It was a stunning sequence that highlighted his steadiness and composure in goal that led the Rangers to a 3-0 shutout win against their bitter division rivals Monday at Madison Square Garden. The 30-year-old Vezina/Hart Trophy finalist made 21 saves to record his fifth career shutout in the playoffs -- a performance that allowed the Rangers to take a 1-0 series lead.

"It's unreal. He's so focused and sharp during the game, it makes you want to make sure you're playing at the same level," said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, whose spectacular back-checking effort in the first negated two breakaway goals by the Devils. "You don't want to rely on him a lot during the game, but when you see him make stops like that, it just makes you play that much harder."

Lundqvist's performance kept the Rangers afloat as the Devils swarmed them in the second period with a relentless forechecking effort and extended zone time.

"As a goalie, you always have to step up when the team needs you, not when you feel good and have your moments," Lundqvist said after the game.

He stopped the Devils on 11 attempts throughout the all-important middle frame that, had the Rangers not weathered, could've easily changed the complexion of the game.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireHenrik Lundqvist outdueled his legendary counterpart Martin Brodeur in Game 1.

"It was an important period for Hank. I thought the first period was kind of a feeling-out period," coach John Tortorella said. "I though Hank gave us a chance to stay in there in the second."

Allowing his club to emerge unscathed from the second, the Rangers showed renewed life in the third, beginning with defenseman Dan Girardi's early marker 53 seconds into the period and rookie Chris Kreider's power-play goal at the 12-minute mark. Artem Anisimov added an empty-net goal with 1:27 remaining in regulation, while Lundqvist had to make only four stops in the last 20 minutes of play.

In a battle between two of the league's elite goaltenders, the cheers at Madison Square Garden for Lundqvist superseded the jeers that serenaded his cross-river rival, future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.

"Every time you play against great players, it's exciting," said Lundqvist, who owns a staggering 23-7-5 head-to-head record in career regular-season games against Brodeur. "Growing up, he was already a big guy over here, big name. And, of course, it's inspiring and exciting to play against top guys. It always is."

Lundqvist, who could make a case for the Conn Smythe should such strong postseason play continue, doesn't need much for motivation, however.

While Brodeur's reputation as perhaps the best goaltender of all time has already been established, Lundqvist is still working toward creating a legacy of his own.

He led the way throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs for the Rangers, and he continued to do so Monday night.

"I don't think it necessarily has to do with Brodeur," teammate Brian Boyle said. "He's a competitive guy and he wants to win. The stage has been set."

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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