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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Henrik Lundqvist makes save of the year, and now goes for the Cup

Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers celebrates after defeating

Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers celebrates after defeating the Montreal Canadiens during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Henrik Lundqvist didn't need to save the Rangers all through Game 6 Thursday night. His team played about as well as it could, clamping down on the Canadiens to get to the Stanley Cup Final and get Lundqvist a shot at The King's first crown.

But Lundqvist was there when it mattered, and that was with 4:45 to go in the second period of a scoreless game. Thomas Vanek tried to send a pass across the slot and Dan Girardi, scrambling to get back, tipped it up and toward the empty right side of the net as Lundqvist slid across.

Lundqvist did something you almost never see him do: He improvised. His stick went flying, his body began some sort of tuck-and-roll and he got his blocker on the fluttering puck, keeping it out of the net in a most unorthodox fashion.

It was, much as no one around the Garden would want to hear the name, Brodeur-esque. It was the sort of seat-of-your pants goaltending that helped make the Devils' Marty Brodeur the all-time best, the sort of goaltending the technically proficient, cool-as-heck Lundqvist never resorts to.

"Dan made a great play, we just got a tough bounce and I tried to react," Lundqvist said. "We got a little bit of luck . . . We played so well as a team."

Lundqvist, coach Alain Vigneault said, was angry before Game 6. Perhaps it was just intense focus. Perhaps it was the memory of being pulled 28:58 into Game 5 after allowing four goals in a very sloppy performance from everyone, goaltender included.

After Game 5, Lundqvist bristled at questions about his own play. More than ever this season, he has accentuated the team and emphasized that the team needs to be good all the way around for the Rangers to achieve.

They have achieved quite a bit now, led by Lundqvist. He had to make only 18 saves Thursday night for his first shutout of this postseason. There was nothing threatening in the final 20 minutes, when the Canadiens looked simply gassed, thanks to the Rangers' defensive structure.

Perhaps in postseasons gone by, Lundqvist would have thrived with more work. Now he is genuinely enthused when the Rangers play the sort of puck possession game they excelled at Thursday night.

"The third period was the best one we've had in the playoffs," he said. "It's great to see how we responded after last game."

And, however briefly, to see how Lundqvist pulled one out of thin air in the second period. When Dominic Moore scored less than three minutes later, it was all the Rangers needed.

"Obviously, one with Hank back there is usually enough," Girardi said.

It was, but more due to the entire effort. Lundqvist needed only to be brilliant and improvisational for just that split-second in the second to get to his first Stanley Cup Final.

From here on out, though, the Rangers might need The King to hold court. The Kings and Blackhawks seem to be playing at another level from any of the teams the Rangers faced in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers will be decided underdogs against either team, with Lundqvist looming as the possible difference-maker.

That is for next week, though. For Thursday night, for Game 6 at the Garden, Lundqvist needed only one ingenious moment and a full-squad effort.

Asked what he saw when Lundqvist popped his blocker up to make that save, Vigneault said: "I said the same thing you did: Wow."

The Rangers will need that from Lundqvist going forward. And Lundqvist will need his teammates to help get him a Stanley Cup.

New York Sports