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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price is a classic goaltender matchup

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) stops

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) stops a shot from Montreal Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk (27) during the third period of Game 5 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Montreal. Photo Credit: AP / Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL -- Advantage, Lundqvist. Yes, of course it is totally unfair to both teams to reduce this tense Stanley Cup playoff series to a one-on-one contest. But what the heck. Let’s face it, Rangers-Canadiens is mostly about the goalies, and the one for the Rangers is ahead 3-2.

Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves in Game 5 at Bell Centre on Thursday night, one more than Carey Price and just enough to put the Rangers within one win of moving into the second round — something that seemed all but impossible four days ago.

Lundqvist is the reason the Rangers always have confidence. He is the main reason they are in the hunt every year. He is the main reason they were 23-7-4 after a loss in the regular season. He was the reason they were in position to dominate the overtime and beat the Canadiens, 3-2, in Game 5. He will be the focal point in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, as he always is.

How much does he mean to the Rangers’ universe? “I don’t think there are words to describe it,” Mika Zibanejad said moments after putting the winning goal past Price. “It’s really incredible.”

What really is incredible is the fact that anyone would want to be a goalie in the first place. The pressure is excruciating, and it only gets worse the later a game goes, the later the playoffs go. This, of course, is when they like it the most.

“It’s nerve-wracking and exciting,” Lundqvist said. “You try to enjoy it. I don’t know if it’s good for your heart, but it’s playoff hockey. There is so much adrenaline when you’re out there. The last five minutes of the game and overtime, you know the next goal is going to win this game. Every play you make, every save, every blocked shot matters.”

Several of the other series have had thrilling back-and-forth surges and mood swings. Four times on Monday night alone, teams rebounded from multiple-goal deficits to force overtime. It has been proof that there is nothing like scoring to fuel excitement in a hockey game.

Then there has been this matchup, in which there has basically been nothing like scoring, period. Essentially, it has been a string of pitchers’ duels. No surprise there. Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price translates into “You’d better make the most of every goal because you are not going to get many.”

You have to believe that each goalie is mentally playing against the other even though they are 178 feet apart.

Alain Vigneault wasn’t buying it, saying, “My understanding of Henrik is he’s motivated every day. He’s always trying to be the best that he can be. He’s always trying to be a real good teammate and he wants to win whether it’s Carey Price or anybody else. He wants to win. He wants to help the Rangers win some games. Highly motivated individual. I don’t think this situation is any different than any other time.”

But after Rangers practice Wednesday, Derek Stepan said of Lundqvist, “It’s been a great matchup between the two of them and he’s loving every minute of it.”

Pitchers usually say it is the opposing batters whom they are facing, but they know they have to deal with whatever the other team’s pitcher has given up. Both Lundqvist and Price realize they have no margin for error because of the other guy. In other words, each of them gets even more of whatever it is that makes them want to do this.

“It’s probably the best feeling,” Lundqvist said. “It’s probably the feeling you’re looking for when you play hockey. You work so hard, you put everything you can into every game. It’s a great feeling. It’s a rush. When it comes to sports, that’s what you’re looking for, that rush.”

He is ahead of Price, three rushes to two, and once again he has helped everyone who plays for or pulls for the Rangers feel as if the next rush is just around the corner.

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