GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Henrik Lundqvist has just about had enough of the armchair eye specialists, the incessant speculation and the idea that the big black-and-blue expanse covering the top right of his face somehow is going to stop him from being the last, and most consistent, line of defense against a legitimately scary Penguins offense.
He’s started 112 consecutive Rangers playoff games. Tuesday night in Game 3, he’ll go again — probably without injured defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh in front of him — and frankly, he’s looking forward to being out there.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from having Marc Staal’s stick blade hit him in the right eye during Game 1, it’s this: It can all be over in an instant, so you had best enjoy the ride.
“That was more of a realization for myself, that it was a close call and I’m just happy that I’m able to be out there playing,” he said Monday afternoon after practice. “I think there are a lot of things that always remind you about why you should be grateful for where you are and what you do, and sometimes incidents happen or sometimes someone tells you something that just reminds you that this is fun.”
Unsurprisingly, Lundqvist has an intense relationship with playoff hockey, and it more than translates into his play. He’s one of only three goaltenders to have started at least 100 straight playoff games with a single team — a span that dates to 2006 in his case — and he leads the league in playoff wins with 55. He has a .923 playoff save percentage.
“I think hockey is a game of emotions, and in the playoffs, the emotions are higher,” he said. “There’s more pressure, more excitement. The will is higher, and that’s when the hockey is at its best. The physicality is high and the speed is better.”
If possible, his role is even more prominent this time around. The Rangers’ inconsistent defense, the Blueshirts’ injuries and the Penguins’ offensive weapons — a laundry list of the players you would least want to have barreling toward you at breakneck speed — have put the team in a difficult position. That is, until you consider Lundqvist. In one player, the Rangers have a potential equalizer, specifically because Marc-Andre Fleury’s injury means the Penguins are vulnerable in the one place the Blueshirts are not.
“It doesn’t matter who they play or who we play,” Lundqvist said of Fleury’s backups. “Every time you’re out there, you have to try to bring your ‘A’ game. As a goalie, you try to give the team confidence in making timely saves . . . They have good goaltending there, so I know I have to be on my ‘A’ game here against a really good team if we’re going to have a chance.”
But . . . but . . . what about the eye?
“Enough talk about that,” he said, eyes wide open despite the discoloration. “It’s behind me.”