By Sean Hartnett
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The formula is simple. Henrik Lundqvist plus adversity equals an extremely motivated goaltender determined to recapture his best form.
A first-round exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last spring was a shock to the system for both Lundqvist and the Rangers. It forced the 34-year-old netminder to take a deep look internally at what went wrong during a series where he posted atypical numbers — an .867 save percentage and 4.39 goals-against average.
“We needed everything and more to beat this team,” Lundqvist said on break-up day back on April 26. “We were not able to get to that level this time. Now is the time to analyze why we didn’t get that done. You have some time to do that, and then you just have to get the rest and prepare for a better and stronger next year. Do you let the last two games set the tone for the entire season? Or do you look at all the good things you did throughout the year and going into this series? I think it’s important to think about the good and bad — and get the right answers before you move on.
“The regular season – it was definitely a year where there were more ups and downs as a group,” he continued. “For a goalie, sometimes it’s a little more challenging to play at times. But you learn from that and you just have to find different ways to win games. Regular season, I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out, like I said over 100 points. Then in the playoffs, the first few games I felt really good. I felt sharp. It’s just the last two there, where for a couple different reasons why we didn’t get it done or I didn’t get it done.”
Ahead of the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, Lundqvist has already gotten himself into peak condition. He trimmed down to 185 pounds during Sweden’s pre-tournament training camp. Lundqvist usually weighs in at about 190 during the NHL regular season. Shedding five pounds might not seem like a big difference on paper, but for a goalie it makes a huge difference. Every bit of quickness and agility is needed to make the most acrobatic and quick-reflex saves.
“I think this game is a lot about determination and how much you want it,” Lundqvist said. “You talk about age — I want it as bad now as I did 10 years ago, maybe even more. I think that’s my biggest motivation going forward, going through training over the summer and preparing for next season.”
On a Swedish team loaded with skill and speed across four lines and three defensive pairings, Lundqvist will have the opportunity to bury the demons of an early playoff exit and wipe the slate clean. Given the shape he’s in and the formidable makeup of his country’s roster, he will have every chance to reach the World Cup of Hockey best-of-three final.
If Lundqvist has a strong performance at the tournament, he will return to the Rangers with a supreme level of confidence. Pairing that kind of mindset with the excellent physical condition he’s in and his hunger to push the Blueshirts back among Eastern Conference contenders means he could be in for a dazzling season between the pipes.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey