NEW YORK – The somber nature of the Rangers locker room on Monday and Tuesday told the story of a team that thought it had lost its chance at the Stanley Cup.
Wednesday night, in Game 4 at a pensive Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist gave his teammates reason to believe again. The road remains long, the task remains arduous. But the map is there. It’s been drawn.
As normal, it begins and ends with their best player. And the world goes round and round.
“Well, it’s about competing,” Henrik Lundqvist said after leading the Rangers to an impossibly-tense 2-1 win. “When everything is on the line, you just have to challenge yourself the right way, I guess, as a team and personally. You have to go out there and leave everything out there and be extremely focused.”
Lundqvist’s competitive focus is legendary. The franchise player has been waiting for this moment since he entered the league in the 2005-06 season. The win in Game 4 is his first-ever win in the Stanley Cup Final.
In his last 13 postseason elimination games, Lundqvist is 11-2 with a 1.30 goals against average, and a .959 save percentage. In his last eight elimination games at Madison Square Garden, he’s 8-0 with a goals against average of 0.99.
“One mistake and the season is over. You’re definitely aware of that,” Lundqvist said. “When you go out to these types of games where you know everything can be over after this period or after the next two periods, you try even harder to be focused and making the right decisions out there. It’s exciting, though. It’s extremely tough, but it’s fun, especially when it’s that intense out there, a lot of action.”
There sure was a lot of action last night. More than the Rangers would have preferred. The Kings directed 71 shots towards Lundqvist’s cage. Only one of 41 shots on goal got past No. 30.
“I think he elevates his game every single night,” said Rick Nash. “Obviously in elimination games we need him to be his best, and he was. He’s our leader, and he’s a guy that we look to. He’s our best player.”
“Any time I put Henrik in goal, I know I’ve got a chance to win,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s a great goaltender. He really proved that again tonight.”
He certainly did. His 40 saves are the most by any goaltender in an elimination non-overtime win in the Stanley Cup Final since saves became an official statistic in the 1950s.
“I think it starts with a mental belief that, you know, we’re doing the right things out there and it’s going to pay off,” Lundqvist said. “Especially in a [game] like this, every little play matters. I think we did so many good things that in the end it paid off for us. Obviously being in this situation before, yeah, I think it helps us.”
Belief is what they needed. It’s what they had to have. Marc Staal said if they didn’t think they could have won this game, they would have lost. It took a spirited effort, fending off a furious Kings attack that saw them outshoot the Rangers 27-6 after New York’s second goal.
“In the last game we outshot them two-to-one and we lost the game, tonight they outshoot us two-to-one and they lose the game,” said Martin St. Louis of a game that saw the Kings outshoot the Rangers 41-19. “It’s about finding ways, and tonight we did that.”
“I’ve never been so happy to have a long flight and a time change,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. “It feels great to finally get a win in the Cup Final and get one under our belt. We didn’t generate as many shots as we wanted to, but we had some good looks when we had them. Hank was huge for us.”
The Rangers’ eight-game winning streak in elimination games at home is an NHL record.
The Rangers have now won at least one home game in 15 consecutive playoff series, tied with the Bruins for the longest active streak in the NHL.
St. Louis’ goal was his 11th postseason game-winning goal of his career, tied for fifth among active players.
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: