Henrik Lundqvist played the role of Superman Wednesday night in Game 4 as the New York Rangers defeated the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.
With the win, the Rangers were able to avoid elimination and send the 2014 Stanley Cup Final back to Los Angeles for a Game 5.
The Rangers goaltender played his best game of the playoffs and made at least 15 spectacular saves to keep the his team’s season alive despite the fact that the Kings dominated puck possession and spent most of the third period in the attacking zone.
Los Angeles outshot New York by an astounding 15-1 margin in the final 20 minutes, but Lundqvist stood tall in his crease, and also got a little puck luck that was absent in the first three games of the series.
“He had to make some huge saves in the second and the third (periods),” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said postgame. “He got and we got a few bounces. You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a little bit. We got to keep competing hard, keep working. We get another chance to play. We’re going to be ready for it.”
Similar to the first three games, the Blueshirts struggled to win puck battles in their own zone over the final 20 minutes of regulation in Game 4 and couldn’t handle the speed of the Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli-Tanner Pearson line, but Lundqvist bailed out his defensemen when the margin for error was razor thin.
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Lundqvist made a total of 40 saves — the third-most by a goalie in a Cup Final win when facing elimination in the last 40 years — to bring his postseason save percentage to .928 (best among goaltenders who advanced to Round 2).
Lundqvist needed to steal at least one game for the Rangers to win this series. Unfortunately for New York, it needs three more of these performances from Lundqvist to pull off a miracle comeback because Los Angeles played a fantastic Game 4 and deserved a better fate.
But the Rangers have been in this situation before. They overcame a 3-1 series deficit in Round 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Lundqvist’s performance in elimination games will give the Blueshirts a ton of confidence entering Friday night’s showdown at Staples Center.
The 32-year-old netminder is 5-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and a .971 save percentage in elimination games during this year’s playoffs. He’s also won an NHL record eight straight elimination games on home ice. As a team, New York is 11-2 in its last 13 postseason games when facing elimination dating back to the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Lundqvist is one of the top three goaltenders in the league and among the finest of this generation, but it’s going to take a total team effort to prevent the Kings from writing a Hollywood ending to their magical postseason run. The Rangers’ season will end Friday night if they give up 40-plus shots and lose 40-plus faceoffs in back-to-back games.
“When everything is on the line, you just have to challenge yourself the right way, I guess, as a team and personally,” Lundqvist said. “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. 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. It’s exciting, though.”