Henrik Lundqvist holds key to Rangers playoff spot

Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers looks on before

Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers looks on before the game against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 10, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Inevitably, when the Rangers need to be pulled up by the bootstraps, the arrow points to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist again.

Friday in Winnipeg -- and then again , when the Blueshirts return from a shaky road trip to host the San Jose Sharks -- the de facto captain of the Rangers must be at his best to right the ship with the playoffs drawing closer.

Lundqvist may not need to post zeros to lift the Rangers out of a 3-4-1 slide since he and the NHL's Olympians returned from Sochi. But wins, and points, in a tightening Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference playoff race are essential.

Since captain Ryan Callahan was shipped to Tampa on March 5, the Rangers have no "C" on any jersey. Brad Richards, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi wear the alternate "A". The trio beings leadership, as do players such as Dom Moore and Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh.

But in recent years, the MVP of the franchise, the guy that has been a difference-maker, is Lundqvist, with 300 wins, 49 shutouts, a handful of Vezina finalist ballots and the trophy itself in 2011-12, a 2.28 playoff goals-against-average and a fiercely competitive edge.

The Blueshirts have scored 18 goals in the last eight games, or 2.25 per outing, which has not been enough to put distance between them and their postseason pursuers. So the pressure is ratcheting up on Lundqvist. The Rangers, as usual, will go nowhere without him.

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