PITTSBURGH — If it’s a Game 7, it’s Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers’ goaltender tried to deflect the credit after his latest Game 7 masterpiece Tuesday night, but it was obvious this one was pretty much all him.
In holding on for a 2-1 series-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center, the Rangers were outshot, 36-20, including 13-7 in the third period.
“Where they took their game to another level in the third period, our goaltender, obviously, took his game to another level and was just able to stop a barrage of opportunities,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “And, he was the difference in tonight’s game.”
Lundqvist earned his fifth consecutive Game 7 victory – all over the past three seasons — moving him one ahead of Ed Belfour, Patrick Roy and Cam Ward for the most in a row in NHL history. He is now 5-1 in his career in Game 7s with a 1.00 goals-against average, .965 save percentage and one shutout. Four of the wins came by a 2-1 score.
His five career Game 7 wins leave him one back of the Devils’ Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy for the most in NHL history.
Lundqvist said this was “probably” the most satisfying Game 7 because it completed the Rangers’ comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, something they had never done before. Lundqvist was superb over the final three games, stopping 102 out of 105 shots for a .971 save percentage and 1.00 GAA and improved to 10-2 with a 1.32 GAA, a .957 save percentage and two shutouts in his last 12 games when facing elimination.
“I feel like there’s sometimes a little too much focus on the goalie record,” Lundqvist insisted. “It’s a team record, but I feel like when they give me a chance to do my thing and vice-versa we’re in good business. We do it together out there.”
Lundqvist’s teammates know better, though. After trying to list the reasons for the Rangers’ resiliency when facing elimination, defenseman Marc Staal summed it up by saying, “Obviously, we’ve got Hank. That helps.”
After Brad Richards’ power-play goal 7:56 into the second period gave them a 2-1 lead, the Rangers seemed to sit back and leave it to Lundqvist to get them to the final horn, particularly in the third period.
“That’s an impressive third period,” Richards said. “It’s so tough, especially in a Game 7 when you’re leading by a goal, not to play safe. You know they’re going to come with a lot of stuff, so it’s great to have him back there.”
During one scramble in front, Lundqvist lost his stick and still managed to make three saves, the last coming on a Paul Martin backhand that struck an abandoned stick in front, hopped up and nearly over Lundqvist’s right pad with 5:15 remaining.
“That was chaos, but I tried to stay patient and wait for the pucks,” Lundqvist said. “I almost started laughing when the last shot came on the ice, it hit the stick on the ice and went up and almost went in. It was bad luck, but, at the same time I had some luck. I managed to save it.”