The whole league agrees: All Hail the King!
BY CHAYIM TAUBER
They were down 3- 1 against a more-skilled team. Game 7 was away. The scheduling was against them. The opponents were well-rested heading into the series. Their best defenseman (Ryan McDonagh) was essentially playing with one shoulder. Chris Kreider was out for the teams’ first 10 playoff games. Their captain was traded. The incumbent, Martin St. Louis’s mother died before Game 5. Rick Nash had 0 goals in the postseason. The Power Play was struggling. The New York Rangers had never in their 87 year history, overcome a 3-1 series deficit. Only 3 teams in NHL history have prevailed after being shutout in consecutive games of a series. Oh, and they had a new Coach/system this season.
That was all working against the New York Rangers. In their favor: they had “The King”.
Henrik Lundqvist is the single biggest reason that Ranger fans can enjoy their sweep against the state of Pennsylvania. Even in losses, he was a force. Sidney Crosby was held to just one early-series goal. Several Penguins were stoned on point-blank shots and breakaways. He had a .940 save percentage in the series and allowed only 3 goals on 105 shots in the last three games of the series – all Rangers victories. Not to mention the Crosby-squirting incident that is costing Lundqvist $5,000 (Rangers fans are already trying to raise the money online to pay it off for him).
Lundqvist is the single biggest reason the Rangers can now rest up and await their opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals. His crunch-time Game 7 numbers, particularly of recent vintage, are the stuff of legends. He just set the NHL record by winning his 5th consecutive Game 7 passing Cam Ward, Ed Belfour and Patrick Roy in the record books. In those five Game 7’s, his goals against average is 0.80 and his save percentage is .973. He’s the first goaltender to allow one or fewer goals in 5 straight Game 7’s. He’s not the only Game 7 superstar on the Rangers however. Brad Richards, one of the Rangers’ two scorers in the deciding game, is a perfect 7-0 in his Game 7 career. The only other player to match that feat was Hall of Famer Red Kelly (late 40’s through mid-60’s). Only two other players have more Game 7 victories in their career than Richards.
Game 7 magic and the wonders of Lundqvist aside, there were several other reasons the Rangers were able to pull off this improbable and historic comeback (hailed by some as the greatest Rangers win since they won the ’94 Stanley Cup).
The leadership of Martin St. Louis and the manner in which his teammates rallied around him was both touching and critical. The Rangers were punch-drunk, waiting for the final blow to be delivered by Pittsburgh when St. Louis got word that his mother had passed. He played in Game 5 despite his mother’s passing and the Rangers pulled out an inspired win. Game 6 was mother’s day and an emotional St. Louis responded to the Garden-faithful’s show of love and support by notching the first goal of the game en route to yet another Rangers victory.
Those are the big-name contributors. Lundqvist’s dominance, Richards’ timeliness, and St. Louis’ heart. The biggest difference between this year’s Ranger team and the one the Bruins bounced last season is their depth. Derrick Brassard has arguably been the Rangers’ best player this postseason, Brian Boyle (in addition to getting the first tally in the deciding Game 7) has been a forechecking, faceoff winning, penalty-killing, shot-blocking force. And lastly, the biggest difference in this year and last year’s fourth line: Dominic Moore. Moore is one of the best in the NHL on Special Teams, always hustles, always makes the smart play (he set up Boyle beautifully for that Game 7 score) and has transformed the Rangers fourth line into a force to be reckoned with. They were the biggest difference between the Rangers and Penguins (after goaltenders of course) and caused all sorts of mayhem for Dan Bylsma’s squad. They are the key moving forward as well as it was the Bruins fourth line that essentially beat the Rangers last season.
The next series is for later in the week however. For now? Rejoice Blueshirts fans. The improbable comeback is complete, there’s time to rest up, and you have “The King”.
As far as the dream of once again lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, in the words of Lundqvist: “why not us?”