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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Brilliant Lundqvist saves Rangers again

Henrik Lundqvist celebrates after defeating the Washington Capitals.

Henrik Lundqvist celebrates after defeating the Washington Capitals. (May 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

John Tortorella has said it often, and he said it again after another Game 7 win for his Rangers.

"This is where your legacy is made, in the playoffs."

Henrik Lundqvist's legacy as the best goaltender in this franchise's history is still in question. But he made a big part of that legacy Saturday night, getting himself and his team to his first conference finals and the Rangers' first in 15 years.

Lundqvist has had many big moments in his career -- Olympic gold, a likely Vezina Trophy this season, an NHL-record 30-plus wins in each of his first seven seasons -- but playoff stardom has eluded him.

With the entire league watching, with a date looming against Marty Brodeur, the best goaltender who's ever played the game, Lundqvist made his mark and the Rangers made theirs with a second period that had the Garden faithful chanting his name, as they so often do.

"It is a relief," Lundqvist said after making 22 saves in the 2-1 win, his and his team's sixth one-goal victory of this postseason. "I'm looking forward to playing some more hockey."

He wasn't able to handle Roman Hamrlik's knuckleball with 9:17 left, but that only cut the lead in half. His teammates, as they have done this season like no other in front of him, clamped down the rest of the way, allowing only two more Caps shots to get through.

The second period was Lundqvist's, though, the one that will be remembered. His team faced the inevitable surge from the Caps, who hadn't been bad in the first, just not as desperate as they needed to be.

Starting with Nicklas Backstrom's neat flick to Alexander Semin, sending the Caps winger in alone five minutes into the second, Lundqvist seized the game. The usually reactive, stay-at-home goaltender came out to the top of his crease to keep Semin from getting to his backhand, squelching the puck back over the top of the net.

Lundqvist wasn't done, not even close, as the Caps found their legs for a dominant stretch. Forty seconds later, Alex Ovechkin dropped a feed for Dennis Wideman's one-timed slap shot; Lundqvist calmly batted the rocket aside.

Then, 80 seconds after that, Lundqvist showed off his unparalleled lateral movement skills to deny Mike Knuble, standing alone to Lundqvist's right after Hamrlik's wrist shot had been stopped.

Three monster saves in less than three minutes, and the 1-0 lead still stood. Lundqvist's legacy grew by the save, a little bit of everything that makes him The King. "I bet he was tired going side to side like that," Caps coach Dale Hunter said. "He made some big saves."

Lundqvist was equally sharp during a 90-second stretch a short while later in the second, when the Caps kept the Rangers penned into their own zone for what seemed an eternity. Lundqvist had five tired teammates collapsed into his field of vision as the Caps wheeled the puck around, looking for a seam, but nothing got through to a dangerous spot.

He played like a man who is still striving for more, for a way to make more history than just vying with Mike Richter for the title of best goaltender in franchise history. He made that debate a lot more compelling Saturday night, when the Garden crowd was chanting his name before the puck even dropped.

Brad Richards got the big early goal. The 18 Rangers skaters flung themselves here and there, crashing and banging and blocking shots, tightening their grip on this game in the final nine minutes.

They were chanting his name again at the end, even though he didn't face a dangerous shot as the seconds wound down.

But Henrik Lundqvist won this one for the Rangers. He won a big one, even if he and his teammates will tell you they've won nothing yet.

"You work so hard . . . '' he said. "It's such a great feeling."

Now Lundqvist has his big moment. With maybe more to come.

New York Sports