Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
PITTSBURGH - He is The King, because that's what he means to the Rangers. The final 10 minutes of Game 7 last night cemented that moniker for Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped everything the Penguins threw at him to get the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals.
So now, The King can truly earn his crown. He is the genuine king of Game 7, with last night's show-stopper Lundqvist's fifth straight Game 7 victory in the last three postseasons.
That he's allowed only four goals in those five games -- four of the wins were by the same 2-1 score -- only serves to remind the Eastern Conference who you want in net for a Game 7.
"Yeah, he's OK," said Alain Vigneault, jokingly. "[The Penguins] took their game to another level in the third period and our goaltender took his game to another level. That was the difference."
Lundqvist demurred when asked to discuss his Game 7 dominance. He referred to the "team game" that the Rangers excel at, and it's true, this rally from 3-1 down to eliminate the high-flying Pens was truly a team effort.
The Rangers rallied around Martin St. Louis after the death of his mother on Thursday and played the sort of smart, opportunistic Rangers hockey that has frustrated plenty of teams the past few seasons.
But none of it happens without Lundqvist. He allowed a single Penguins goal in each of the three games, games that grew successively more desperate and intense as the Penguins realized what had been a bit of a cakewalk was now a serious struggle.
So it was that Lundqvist preserved the Rangers' lead with point-blank stops on Chris Kunitz and James Neal in the second period, then in the frenzied final half of the third he was unbeatable. With five minutes and change to go, he and his teammates sprawled everywhere to fend off a barrage of Penguins shots, the last hitting a loose stick in front of him and deflecting up.
Somehow, Lundqvist clutched it between his arm and his body. Somehow, Lundqvist rose to the level of goaltending royalty.
"I almost started laughing when the last shot hit the stick on the ice and almost went in," he said. "It was people everywhere, puck all over the place and you just try to be in the way."
As he said, this is a team game. "I feel like there's too much focus on the goaltending record," he said of his five straight Game 7 wins. "It's a team record."
So, too is that 38-43 career playoff mark of Lundqvist's, with now two Conference finals appearances and no trips to the Stanley Cup final. He is The King to the Rangers, but he is nowhere among the annals of NHL greats because of that hole in his resume.
There are plenty of fine goaltenders who never won a Cup. Curtis Joseph played 20 pretty good seasons without winning one; Roberto Luongo is over 800 NHL games without one.
Lundqvist isn't even quite to that level, because both of those goaltenders played for a Cup. At age 32, Lundqvist has to get to that place to really be The King.
He belongs on the throne as far as the Rangers are concerned, because even the modest accomplishments of the past few seasons aren't possible without him.
Now is his chance to really, truly become The King. Whether it's the top-flight Bruins or the Canadiens, whose Bell Centre home has been Lundqvist's house of horrors, the Rangers and their king have a chance to do something special.
It started quite well Tuesday night, but there's more to be done to earn that crown.