Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
TAMPA, Fla. - Henrik Lundqvist sat at his locker at noon Friday knowing that much of the New York area had spent the previous 36 hours psychoanalyzing him.
Was the Lightning in the head of the Rangers' superstar goaltender? Was his confidence shaken? Did he have major changes planned?
Lundqvist calmly assured the assembled journalists that he was doing just fine, thank you.
Eight hours later, he took the ice at Amalie Arena and proved it.
The Rangers' most important player went from yielding a shocking six goals in consecutive games against the Lightning to allowing only one in a 5-1 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, now tied at two games apiece.
And he did it despite another series of defensive breakdowns and turnovers in front of him, as well as a second-period storm during which the Lightning outshot the Rangers 19-6 but were outscored by them 2-1.
When it was over, he was asked if "redemption" would be a fair way to describe what transpired.
"I'm not sure," he said. "Probably the last 48 hours or so, it's been pretty tough mentally to not overanalyze or complicate things. But it's been good.
"I have probably the best goalie coach in the world [Benoit Allaire] to talk to about a situation like this where I played 12, 13 games where I feel like I'm at a level where I feel I'm really helping the team and then you have two games where I think I'm OK against a really good team and then you look really average."
He added, "It was a little soul- searching and also talking about my game and what I could do to have a better result, and I think in the end I made a few adjustments and it really paid off."
Even as many people outside the team began to question what was going on with Lundqvist -- much as he seemed to be questioning himself after Game 3 -- his coach and teammates said they never had any real concern.
"There was a lot of talk about him and his play," coach Alain Vigneault said, "but there wasn't any doubt from within our dressing room. Hank has done this so many times before that he was going to come out and do what he always does: Give us a chance to win."
Said Martin St. Louis, "Hank played tremendous at key times when they were humming, they were coming and Hank kept it where it needed to be."
Lundqvist had some good luck in the first period, when Nikita Kucherov found himself alone in front of the goal but missed badly high and wide.
Then Tyler Johnson had a clear shot from short range -- and slammed it off the crossbar so hard that it bounded more than halfway back down the ice.
But in the second, Lundqvist had to make several big saves, including a breakaway chance by Alex Killorn. He later poked the puck away from Nikita Nesterov right in front of the net.
Killorn had another great chance a few minutes later but Lundqvist forced him to go wide, inspiring a round of "Hen-rik" chants from the many Rangers fans in the arena.
Lundqvist faced 39 shots, and the only goal he allowed came when Steven Stamkos ripped a shot from the slot past his stick side.
Asked if it was his best game of the playoffs, Lundqvist correctly recalled a couple of dandies against the Capitals in the second round. But under the circumstances, this one was memorable in its own way.
"Coming off two losses and a lot of goals scored, obviously you don't feel great," he said. "You walk around and you think a lot, and to come into this game and be able to play a strong game, that obviously feels good."