The New York Rangers stayed alive with a 2-1 win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. The key to the Rangers success was obvious: goalie Henrik Lundqvist played a spectacular game, making 40 saves to earn the victory.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault summed up his feelings about his star goalie after Game 4 when he said, “Anytime I put Henrik in goal, I know I got a chance to win. You know, he’s a great goaltender.”
Game 4 merely reminded hockey fans why Vigneault feels that way about his starting netminder. Sure, the Rangers had a little “puck luck” when twice the disc got behind Lundqvist and stopped just in front of the goal line where Derek Stepan and Anton Stralman took turns keeping the puck out of the net. But overall, Lundqvist is the biggest reason the Rangers got to the Stanley Cup Final and he’s also the biggest reason they’re still alive after Game 4.
Lundqvist seems to rise to the occasion when the chips are down. The win in Game 4 means that the last 13 times New York faced postseason elimination, the Rangers have gone 11-2. Lundqvist stated all of those games and has a 1.30 GAA and a save percentage of .959.
When asked why he’s been so successful in elimination games, Lundqvist explained, “Well, it’s about competing. 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. One mistake and the season is over. You’re definitely aware of that.”
Lundqvist keeps his calm in those must-win situations, and that helps keep his teammates calm and raises their level of confidence.
“Hank made some big saves, he stood on his head,” Stepan explained after Game 4. “Those are the big plays we need at certain moments, to keep the momentum. Hank stood tall and he’s a big part of why we’re going back to L.A.”
The stellar play of Lundqvist in elimination games helped the Rangers get here and it also helps the team have more self-confidence, something that seemed to be lacking after the 3-0 shutout loss in Game 3. “I think we believe in each other in that situation.” Lundqvist said. “That’s huge, to know that you can pull it off even though they’re coming at you in a lot of different ways. 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.”
The Rangers have their work cut out for them. They are playing a team that is bigger, more skilled and deeper than they are. The Kings also feature a world-class goalie of their own in Jonathan Quick.
But Game 4 changed a few things for the Rangers. Instead of complaining about bad luck, they saw that if they worked hard, the bounces could go their way. They realized that they could beat the Kings and learned how much work they had to put in to do so.
The Rangers are a long way from becoming the first team since 1942 to win a Stanley Cup Final series after losing the first three games. But after Game 4, they realize they still have a pulse and a chance to win the Stanley Cup if they take things one game at a time. One thing is definitely clear, however: There is no way the Rangers win another game against the Kings unless Lundqvist remains on top of his game.