‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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For the majority of the 2013-14 season, Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t resembled anything remotely close to a former Vezina Trophy winner.
Lundqvist has been leaking uncharacteristic goals, and after tough losses his sunken exterior and own words have revealed a shaken goalie whose confidence had dipped to a low point.
On Wednesday night at the United Center “Madhouse,” King Henrik reclaimed his crown by earning a belief-inspiring victory over the defending Stanley Cup champs.
This was after Lundqvist failed to cut down the angle on an advancing Brandon Bollig, who snapped the puck past Lundqvist to even the game at 2-2.
After surrendering the tying goal, Lundqvist’s spark was ignited. He proceeded to slam the door shut on the NHL’s highest-scoring and most dominant team.
Aided by his collapsing defenseman, Lundqvist fought off wave after wave of Blackhawk attacks following Carl Hagelin’s determined go-ahead goal that gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 5:57 remaining in regulation.
Lundqvist appeared to transform into an octopus-like creature with multiple appendages, as he and the Rangers snuck out of the United Center with a 3-2 win over a loaded Blackhawks team that was previously 15-2-6 on home ice.
When it was all said and done, the King made 35 saves and credited his teammates for building a fortress around him.
Dan Girardi, whose game is appearing to return to form, blocked an incredible six shots. He and Marc Staal were at their exceptional best on Wednesday night.
Staal looked like the pre-concussion Staal of years past. He broke up a number of Blackhawk chances using his long reach, contributed two assists and nearly scored when his point-shot rang Corey Crawford’s post at 15:28 in the third period.
Lundqvist aside, there is plenty of evidence for Rangers fans to feel confident.
Rick Nash is playing with a lot more jump and energy lately. Always-lively winger Mats Zuccarello has been difficult to contain, scoring goals and demonstrating remarkable vision. Chris Kreider has developed a physical dimension to his game to go along with his jet-like speed and sniping abilities.
Ryan McDonagh-Girardi and Staal-Anton Stralman are once again playing like two very solid pairs of top-four defenseman. Even the much-maligned Michael Del Zotto has strung together three positive games by recording a power-play assist in each of his three outings.
Back on December 4, Rangers general manager Glen Sather essentially handed Lundqvist the keys to the Garden by awarding Lundqvist a seven-year, $59.5 million extension.
“It’s up to you, Henry,” Sather said. “Just carry us on your shoulders.”
It might have come later than expected, but Lundqvist appeared to rediscover his mojo on the United Center ice on Wednesday night when the pressure was turned the highest.
Sather did not make a mistake by paying Lundqvist what some are calling a “King’s Ransom.” Lundqvist has what it takes to carry this team and an expectant Rangers fan base on his back and toward greater things. Just you watch.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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