By Sean Hartnett
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There’s no doubting that Martin Brodeur is still an elite-level goaltender on his best days.
In Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, Brodeur resembled a 30-year-old in his prime, rather than his driver’s license age of 40. The 3-0 losing scoreline didn’t accurately reflect how well Brodeur competed — but the night belonged to Henrik Lundqvist, who earned the shutout.
The younger, 30-year-old Lundqvist has long eclipsed the Devils’ legendary netminder as a regular season performer, but he’s just beginning to form his playoff résumé. At 30, Brodeur captured his third Stanley Cup championship in 2003.
Brodeur became the Devils’ full-time goalie just as New Jersey was on the verge of forming a rare hockey dynasty. Lundqvist didn’t have the same benefit during his youth as the Rangers were going through a transitional period under the leadership of former head coach Tom Renney.
John Tortorella’s 2012 Rangers are just tipping the iceberg of what they’re capable of accomplishing.
On Monday night, Lundqvist took another step closer toward etching his own playoff legacy. Should Lundqvist continue the supreme level he displayed in Game One, there’s a strong chance the Rangers will advance past the Devils and into their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.
Lundqvist admires the accomplishments of Brodeur, who set the gold standard for modern day NHL goaltending. I spoke with Henrik following the Game One victory about matching Brodeur’s high level of competitiveness.
“Every time you play against great players, it’s exciting. Coming into the league, playing against Marty, growing up he was already a big guy over here — a big name,” Lundqvist replied.
He continued, “Of course, it’s inspiring and exciting to play against top guys. It always is. So, it’s always been fun. It’s a great challenge for me to play against him. I remember I got a few games against (Dominik) Hasek, and I put (Brodeur) up there with him. Growing up, they were big guys. It’s always exciting,” he concluded.
Listen: Lundqvist speaks after the Rangers’ Game One victory
Hasek had to wait until 37 to lift his first Stanley Cup as a member of the 2002 Detroit Red Wings. Rangers fans are hoping Lundqvist’s wait won’t be nearly as long as “The Dominator’s.”
Lundqvist’s window of opportunity is now. He’s at peak of his powers, surrounded by an ideal mix of veterans and up-and-comers that fit into Tortorella’s team-first concepts.
An unyielding group of defensemen in front of Lundqvist’s net limited the Devils to 21 shots on goal in Game One. One of those uncompromising blueliners is Ryan McDonagh who made a number of crucial interventions and back-checked with gusto.
McDonagh shared his insight on Lundqvist’s driven mentality. “We see him here everyday. He’s got the same determined face. His preparation is second to none, as far as I’ve seen in a goalie in my career. It’s no coincidence, the way he plays out there,” he explained.
If Brodeur’s playoff success is the measuring stick by which Lundqvist will ultimately be judged upon, ‘King Henrik’ must first conquer Brodeur’s Devils on his path toward the Stanley Cup.
Has Lundqvist’s time finally come? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.