Stanley Cup Final: Facing elimination, Henrik Lundqvist regains his throne

Paul Bereswill

The Rangers have a long road ahead trailing 3-1 to the Kings, but on Wednesday night, Henrik Lundqvist rediscovered his form.

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NEW YORK -- Forty.

That's the number of saves it took Henrik Lundqvist to backstop the Rangers, eking out a Game 4 Stanley Cup Final victory. In doing so, Lundqvist posted the third-most saves by a goalie when facing elimination in a Stanley Cup game in the last 40 years.

The Rangers' best player needed to be the best player on the ice entering New York's matchup with the Kings for the Blueshirts to have any chance of hoisting their first Cup in two decades. On Wednesday night, he was.

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

"It's about competing," said Lundqvist. "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."

Facing elimination, the script was nothing new for Lundqvist on Wednesday night. If anything, his performance was more of a broken record. It was the fifth time the Rangers have faced elimination this postseason and, as was the case in the previous four contests, he backstopped his teammates rather efficiently. He's allowed five goals in the 300 minutes of elimination play, while stopping 168 of 173 shots, or a .971 save percentage.

"One mistake and the season is over. You're definitely aware of that," he said after Wednesday night's game. "When you go out to these types of games where, you know, 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."

Oddly enough, Lundqvist was one of the reasons many pointed to as to what was going wrong after the Rangers fell into a 3-0 hole. He had surrendered 11 goals in those three tilts, uncharacteristically watching his save percentage plummet to a meager .892. There were talks of puck luck, bounces and destiny. Ultimately, Lundqvist was the name on the back of the sweater for all 11 of those goals against, and entering Game 4, both the face of the franchise and his teammates weren't ready to roll over quite yet.

"He had to make some huge saves in the second and the third," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "He got and we got a few bounces.

"You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit."

Luck is something earned in hockey, and while the Rangers as a team may have played their worst game of the series en route to their first win, the same certainly couldn't be said about Lundqvist.

"Hank stood on his head. He made some big saves in some big times for us," said Derek Stepan. "Those are the big plays that we need at certain moments to keep the momentum or shift the momentum. Hank stood tall and he's a big part of why we are going back to L.A."

The victory wasn't without its tense moments, similar to just about every elimination game the Rangers have faced. After the Kings drew within 2-1 midway through the second period, they outshot the Rangers 27-3 the rest of the way. New York heavily leaned on Lundqvist, and the goalie responded.

"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."

What many choose to highlight about Lundqvist is his competitive nature. He wants to be successful, which is a given for someone whose profession is results-driven, but his desire extends beyond that of most. In seasons past, he's voiced his displeasure with the way the Rangers have ended their year.

"One mistake and the season is over," said Lunqvist. You're definitely aware of that."

Sitting in his locker room stall after getting bounced from the 2013 playoffs in Boston, Lundqvist described the frustration of a Rangers team not reaching its potential. Having bowed out the year prior in the Eastern Conference Final, Glen Sather had made the blockbuster move in acquiring Nash, but that Rangers team never found momentum in a lockout-shortened season, and snuck into the playoffs before getting picked apart by the Bruins.

The circumstances this year were quite different, as the Rangers again added another big-name forward in Martin St. Louis. They've gone as far as they ever have during Lundqvist's professional career. And on Wednesday night, the franchise player ensured that they'll at least get another crack at the Kings, another chance to extend the series, if only for pride's sake.

"We didn't want to see the Cup coming out on our home ice tonight," Lundqvist said. "Yeah, just the thought of it makes me feel sick.

"Obviously the goal is to see it through Game 7. But there's so much work to be done here, we're just looking at the next game as a great challenge for us."

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