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Why Henrik Lundqvist Is The Rangers King of Clutch

Why Henrik Lundqvist Is The Rangers King of Clutch
Henrik Lundqvist likes to end practice and warm up with three breakaways, a drill he says helps his patience. (InGoal Photo by Scott Slingsby)

With another game seven win, Henrik Lundqvist is quickly becoming one of the most well known “big game” goaltenders in recent memory. (InGoal Photo by Scott Slingsby)

With last night’s game seven overtime victory over the Washington Capitals, Henrik Lundqvist added to his already impressive list of big-game victories.

The New York Rangers netminder has now won six straight game sevens, with a 6-1 overall record in the series-deciding games. His save percentage and goals against average in those games stand at .966 and 0.97, respectively. He is also now 10-0 at Madison Square Garden in the playoffs when the Rangers are facing elimination.

Lundqvist has tied two legends for the most game seven victories, by clinching his sixth. He is now sitting alongside Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy on that list. More impressively, it only took him seven tries. Brodeur played in 13 game sevens, and Roy played in 11.

In another freaky twist of fate, this was the third straight May 13th that the Rangers have won a game seven, with Lundqvist making 35 saves. In 2014 it was the Pittsburgh Penguins, and 2013 was the Washington Capitals again.

It’s not an understatement to say that the goaltending duel between Lundqvist and Braden Holtby was one of the best that the second round has ever seen.

The shooters from Washington and New York were only able to achieve 25 goals in the seven game series, scoring at an average rate of 3.4 goals per game when you factor in the overtime periods. Given that the average goals per game in the regular season usually sits around 5.5, that is an incredible feat.

The key to coming out on top when facing such a tough opponent was not obsessing over it, but embracing the challenge.

Braden Holtby proved to be a formidable opponent for Lundqvist and the Rangers, but his stellar play was not enough to make it past the second round. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby, All Rights Reserved)

“This series was fun; Washington played really well and Holtby was outstanding,” he said. “Personally, it was a great challenge to try and stay in the game and try and match him by keeping the team in it when we needed it. It’s fun when you feel like you are doing your part, and then there are moments when the team steps up and scores the big goals. You need each other to have success so it’s a great feeling when you pull it off like this.”

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Even casual fans can see the difference in Lundqvist’s game compared to other elite goaltenders. He is confident while playing a deeper game, and has a firm belief in his own system; one that builds even more with each pressure situation. Some of the differences in his game were pointed out in a previous article here on InGoal.

A simpler, more positional game is less susceptible to nerves getting in the way. Lundqvist doesn’t heavily rely on rhythm and timing like some goaltenders, but technique can only carry a goaltender so far. It’s the belief in his technique that helps him stay mentally strong.

“To have success you need to be consistent, whatever you do,” Lundqvist told InGoal Magazine in the final weeks of the regular season. “If you are an aggressive goalie, stick to that. But if you play deep, play deep. If you mix it up you are going to have mixed results.”

Lundqvist learned that the hard way during the 2013-14 season, telling InGoal his well-documented struggles in the first half stemmed in large part from abandoning the deeper, goal line-out style he learned from Benoit Allaire as an NHL rookie, and playing closer the top of his crease.

The harder Lundqvist tried, the more aggressive he got. That lesson about not trying to hard applies perfectly to game sevens.

“Sometimes it’s hard to stick to basics when you are not having the results you want. You try too much and you want to win so much,” he said, “And that’s not really what I am looking for in my game. For me it’s about staying deep and just believing in my ability. Early on it was probably the toughest stretch of my career if I look back at my 13 years as a pro. I didn’t take it easily. It was definitely a test for me, a challenge for me. I am so happy with the way I turned things around and managed to get my focus where it needed to be.”

“You have to be very consistent with the way you make decisions and focus and not try too much,” Lundqvist said.

Lundqvist2That confidence he speaks about was put on display earlier in the series by recovering to his feet in situations that a lot of other goalies would have stayed down in the butterfly. This was noted earlier this week in a previous article.

When most goalies would worry about opening up a hole in the process of recovering, he trusts his belief that he can recover quickly enough. His knowledge and ability to read plays like that are what sets him apart and makes him an elite netminder in the NHL.

Another aspect of Lundqvist’s game that gets overlooked is his ability to evolve. In an age of intense pre-scouting that breaks down every move, he is able to change over time.

He doesn’t abandon the inside-out roots that were instilled by Benoit Allaire during his first season with the Rangers, but he has added more aggressive positioning in specific situations over time.

There were times when you could see him outside of the crease on point shots against the Penguins in the first round. He has added more depth and timed retreats on breakaways, also in some 1-on-1 situations, including one that led to a big rebound save outside of the crease early in game seven.

Henrik Lundqvist has again carried the New York Rangers into the second round. (InGoal Photo by Scott Slingsby, all rights reserved)

As a goaltender that plays deeper in his crease, Lundqvist’s post integration techniques are always a hot topic. He isn’t afraid to use traditional VH or reverse-VH. (InGoal Photo by Scott Slingsby, all rights reserved)

He also primarily uses VH, but has added a reverse/shoulder lean combo on plays that develop below the goal line. It also is not common to see him use the overlap technique on plays off the wall higher in zone.

These adjustments, as well as his equipment adjustments, have been covered by the February 2012 edition of InGoal Magazine.

However you look at it, Henrik Lundqvist is a treat to watch. He is confident in his current set of skills, but he is not afraid to try new techniques to add to his repertoire. It’s clear that he is not the same goalie that he was even three or four years ago.

One thing that has remained the same is his ability to win big games. His performances in game sevens have been unparallelled, and it is truly astounding that he has not led his team to a Stanley Cup victory in his career.

With the Rangers making it to the third round in 2015, that may change very quickly.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.