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Henrik Lundqvist off to quick start for Rangers

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist protects the

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist protects the net against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Henrik Lundqvist lay on his back in the midst of his blue slice of ice, facing the wrong direction, looking toward the net from the crease in this first-period moment. And somewhere inside his left leg pad was the puck he had just stopped.

The gifted goalie skated out under the spotlight in the darkened Garden Saturday night, raising his stick to the crowd during the pregame introductions for the Rangers' home opener. And then he had the fans chanting "Hen-rik" repeatedly for his wondrous work.

Lundqvist has had the Rangers facing the right direction since the first puck dropped for the season Wednesday night.

They have won all three of their games to begin this journey after finishing off the back-to-back sweep of Columbus, 5-2, thanks in large part to Lundqvist, the game's No. 1 star, who made 37 saves.

The Rangers wanted to get Lundqvist going on a good rhythm after relatively slow starts the last few seasons. So Alain Vigneault put him in net for this opening stretch of three games in four nights. And Lundqvist is in rhythm, looking cat-quick at 33 and just plain sharp overall.

Vigneault had sent him home with a message after last season ended in the Eastern Conference finals.

"The last thing he told me before I went back to Sweden was: 'You've got to be better when we start,' " Lundqvist said. "That stayed with me the entire summer, and coming back to camp with , we put out a good plan to be as ready as I could be. I felt like I was in a good phase when we started playing. It's only three games, but I also felt like playing the exhibition games . . . My focus was better."

This marked his first 3-0 start since he won the first five games in the 2008-09 season. Lundqvist has made more than 30 saves in all three games.

This also marked the 71st time in his career that he played both sides of a back-to-back set. He's now 44-20-7 in the second games.

New backup Antti Raanta could very well give Lundqvist a break Tuesday night when the Winnipeg Jets come to MSG.

Late in the second period, Lundqvist went back to play the puck, but it took a hop off the boards right to Ryan Johansen, standing near the right doorstep with a wide-open net.

"In that moment, you try not to panic," Lundqvist said. "You try to stay cool and time it so you get there at the same time he's shooting the puck."

Lundqvist dived and somehow got there to knock the puck away with his right glove.

"I was a little lucky there, obviously," he said.

Lundqvist finally cracked in the third, allowing goals to Johansen and Boone Jenner. But those goals didn't dent the perception of Lundqvist.

"He's given us the best chance to win," J.T. Miller said. "He expects it of himself and we expect it of him."

New York Sports