The King of 30

Hank save.jpg

Henrik Lundqvist denies Jori Lehtera as he battles Oscar Lindberg during a Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Blues. AP Photo by Billy Hurst/Getty Images

Since he entered the league in ’05-06 as a bright eyed rookie, Henrik Lundqvist has been a model of consistency for the Rangers. Having been the backbone of the franchise, he continues to perform at a high level when called upon. Coming off a loss in New Jersey, Lundqvist delivered a big performance stopping 35 shots to lead the Rangers to a 2-1 road win over the Blues.

It was his clutch saves that gave his team a chance. After stoning Scottie Upshall on a breakaway keeping the game tied, Lundqvist finally got some support. It came from Chris Kreider, who notched the game-winner at 4:18 of the third period thanks to an outstanding play from Oscar Lindberg, who while on his knees passed for an open Kreider.

Lundqvist still had to make a few more stops. When he did and his team protected a one-goal lead, he joined Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy as the only goalies to ever win 30 games in 10 different seasons. Since winning 30 his rookie year, the affable Swede who will turn 34 on March 2nd has won 30-or-more in 10 of 11 seasons. The only year he didn’t was the shortened season of ’12-13 when he won 24 in 43 games.

”Growing up, those guys were guys I was watching and now I’m up there with wins,” Lundqvist said. ”To me, it’s just a sign of I’ve been given a chance for a lot of years. I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of good players and been able to have a competitive team every year.”

While it’s also true he has benefited from the shootout, Lundqvist is plenty worthy of becoming the third member. The Rangers’ all-time franchise leader in wins (369) and shutouts (59) is the best goalie in the team’s proud history that’s also included fan favorites Eddie Giacomin and Mike Richter. One day following his career, his number 30 will be joining his predecessors in the Garden rafters on the Chase Bridges for all fans to see.

Without him, the Rangers never rebound to become a Stanley Cup contender. Even with this year’s roster being more flawed, they still have a chance and it hinges on the goalie. That same one who took them as far as he could in 2014. The franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1994. A year many Ranger fans are sick of hearing about.

”Every game you know that you’re going to get his best effort and you’re going to get great preparation and he’s going to give you a chance to win and that’s what you want from your goaltender,” coach Alain Vigneault said of the man who led the Blueshirts to consecutive second round comebacks from 3-1 series deficits advancing to the Conference Finals.

They can thank the goalie for most of the success that’s included three Final Four appearances the last four years along with a Stanley Cup appearance and a President’s Trophy. Lundqvist knows the window is closing. He is the true treasure and measure of a champion. Someone who gets it. At times, we see the frustration on his face following a loss such as the debacle in Newark. He wants to win.
The save he made on Upshall with the game still tied was the difference. Tuesday, he couldn’t deny Sergey Kalinin. This time, he stayed square to the shooter and made the game changing save that led to Lindberg making a phenomenal play to Kreider, who snapped an eight-game drought. That clutch stop bailed out Ryan McDonagh, who in his return turned over the puck at the St. Louis blueline causing the breakaway.

”Those are plays in the game that are momentum changers,” Upshall said. ”That play ends up being the play of the game and when you are on the other side of that it’s tough.”

”I thought the third period was our best tonight,” Vigneault said. ”We made a couple of mistakes early there, a couple of turnovers that led to grade ‘A’ chances, but we were able to make a couple of grade ‘A’ saves and we were able to counter.”

The Rangers defended better following the Kreider goal. They had everyone back and kept the Blues to the outside. One change Vigneault gets credit for is flipping Kreider with Viktor Stalberg. He moved Kreider down to the third line with Lindberg and Kevin Hayes- putting Stalberg with Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast, who was switched with Mats Zuccarello. It paid dividends.
Notes: The win kept the Rangers three points in front of the Islanders for second in the division. Brooklyn rallied back to beat Calgary 2-1 with Josh Bailey getting the overtime winner to keep pace. Blueshirts (35-20-6) have 76 points in 61 games. Islanders (33-19-7) have 73 in 59 played. Rangers have the edge in ROW (32-29). … In his return after missing two games with a jaw contusion and neck spasms, McDonagh received 32 shifts (24:44) and went plus-two. …
Marc Staal also returned getting 25 shifts (21:16) and even won a faceoff. … Blues’ lone goal came on the power play from Troy Brouwer when a loose puck banked in off his body with Dan Girardi off for a hi-sticking double minor on Blues’ sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. Girardi assisted on Tanner Glass’ first goal in 29 games. Glass redirected a Girardi point shot past St. Louis starter Jake Allen (21 saves). … Brady Skjei was sent down to Hartford.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (game-winner-12th atoned for gaffe that led to dangerous Blues’ shorthanded bid)
2nd Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (made a great pass from his knees setting up Kreider winner-somehow only played 10:21 all at even strength)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (35 saves incl. 25/26 in 1st 2 periods, 10/10 in 3rd-30 wins
for 10th time in 11 seasons)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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