PITTSBURGH — Henrik Lundqvist has put the brakes on a truckload of Rangers skids, especially during the postseason in the last few years.
Yesterday, starting his 112th consecutive playoff game, the 34-year-old goaltender had an added challenge: Prevent the Blueshirts from dropping into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven series after being forced out of Game 1 on Wednesday night with a right eye injury.
He rose to the occasion.
Since the start of the 2012 playoffs, Lundqvist has a 22-12 record, 1.90 GAA and .934 save percentage in 34 playoff games that have followed a Rangers loss.
“We probably take it for granted,” Chris Kreider said after Lundqvist made 29 saves in the 4-2 win, his 55th career playoff victory, 15th on the all-time wins list. “He’s our best player all year and he played like it tonight.”
One of the most crucial stops came at 4:26 of the second period, with the Rangers having just taken a 2-1 lead. Bryan Rust hopped out of the penalty box and flew in on a breakaway, but Lundqvist got his glove on Rust’s 15-foot wrister.
“Obviously, it was a big moment in the game,” Lundqvist said. “Every save matters; that’s what you have to tell yourself, especially in the playoffs.”
Lundqvist was superb at even strength. The two goals, both by Phil Kessel, came on the power play.
“He’s a big-game goaltender,” Alain Vigneault said. “There’s no doubt that as a group tonight, we responded.”
Lundqvist knew the situation, both personally and professionally.
“It was an extremely important game for us,” he said. “The big thing for me was going to the specialist [Friday] and just finding out there was no damage . . . When you know there’s nothing wrong with the eye, you can just push yourself, and whatever’s feeling uncomfortable, you don’t think about it when the game starts. You’re very determined. Right after I left the doctor’s office, I expected to play.”
In part, he admired the way the Rangers took the body with 57 hits. “There were a couple things we could do better and we did,” Lundqvist said. “When you go into the playoffs, you’re not going to play a team one time. It’s important to play a physical game and make it harder on their top guys.”
But the Penguins aren’t backing away.
“It’s first to four. The momentum can change many times,” Lundqvist said. “It was important for us to answer back here, but it’s a tie series.”