Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

Alain Vigneault talked often about his goal-tender after Henrik Lundqvist saved the Rangers' faint Stanley Cup chances again and again and again in Game 4.

The coach also mentioned the breaks the Rangers were not getting for the first three games that they did get in last night's 2-1 win, especially the slushy ice behind Lundqvist that held two pucks from crossing the goal line in a one-goal game, the last with just 1:11 remaining.

"Thank God for soft ice every now and then," Vigneault said.

He doesn't have to look heavenward to talk about Lundqvist, who fell through the draft cracks 14 years ago and into the Rangers' laps. A succession of coaches and players have thanked the stars and whatever other deities they choose for the presence of Lundqvist, who was The King of all the Kings in Game 4 when he made 40 saves.

Wednesday night marked the fifth time the Rangers have faced elimination this postseason. It was the fifth Rangers win in such circumstances, with one other consistency: The Rangers' opponents have scored one goal each time.

None were as difficult to preserve as Wednesday night's, when the Rangers took a 2-0 lead with a couple of good breaks, gave one back on a bad break and spent the remaining 31 minutes fending off rush after rush from a Kings team that could taste a victory lap around the Garden with the Cup.

"He's our leader, our best player," Rick Nash said. "I thought he played unbelievable."

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You could hardly say Lundqvist had been bad for the first three games of his first final, but the 11 goals he'd allowed would say otherwise. The first two games in Los Angeles were wild. It was up and down and the Kings made the most of their chances, erasing two-goal leads with alarming regularity.

Lundqvist saw only 15 shots in Game 3 and bad bounces played a role in all three Kings goals. With Jonathan Quick seemingly unbeatable at the other end, Lundqvist's frustration was enormous, as big as the series hole the Rangers were in heading into Wednesday night.

Just as he did in the final 10 minutes of Game 7 against the Flyers on April 30 -- and does that game and series ever feel like half a dozen seasons ago by now -- just as he did in Games 5-7 against the Penguins, Lundqvist took it upon himself to make a lead and just one goal allowed stand up.

Last night he was a little more alone in that determination than he'd been before. Dan Girardi had bad luck when his stick snapped to allow Dustin Brown in alone to cut the Rangers' lead in half, but that doesn't explain Girardi's alarming lack of pivot in allowing a couple strong moves to the net in the second and third.

The Rangers' defense was caught flat-footed as a whole on too many occasions when it was 2-1. There's no telling what will happen Friday if that's the case.

"We definitely have some things we need to clean up," Dominic Moore said.

The Rangers were not at their best. Lundqvist was, with a little help from the slush behind him, some missed swipes by the Kings and the alertness of Anton Stralman in the first period and Stepan in the final 90 seconds.

"I've been in the game a long time to know that sometimes the hockey gods are there," Vigneault said. "They were there tonight."

He doesn't have to thank those hockey gods for Lundqvist. The Rangers already know where he'll be, especially when it's on the line like it was in Game 4.