In a season far different from last year, when the Rangers were at the top of the Eastern Conference for much of the way and Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy, the Swedish netminder was critical down the stretch as the Blueshirts scrambled desperately to clinch a playoff berth.
His performance was acknowledged Wednesday with another Vezina nomination, his fifth. Lundqvist, 31, tied for the NHL lead in wins with 24 and starts with 43, and had a 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage.
The two other nominees were Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky, who had 21 wins and ranked second among goaltenders in save percentage, and San Jose's Antti Niemi, who also had 24 wins and was third in shots faced and saves and had four shutouts.
"It means a lot; I'm really proud to be in that category," Lundqvist said Wednesday morning at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers were preparing for Game 4 against the Washington Capitals. "It's been a really interesting year, a different year, shorter season, tight schedule and things maybe didn't go our way all the time, but when you have to work really hard to get back in the race and when you get in, it's a really big reward.
"Last year, I felt a lot of things were going our way, where personally, maybe I had a little more highs, but the consistency this year was something I'm pleased with."
Veteran Martin Biron, the Rangers' backup goalie, said that Lundqvist's preparation is "perfect" and he faced the challenge of the year with aplomb.
"He had to really lead this team when we were in a tough position," Biron said. "There's pressure when we were at the top of the conference like we were last year to always keep it at the same level, but it's a completely different pressure from being in ninth and 10th and seventh and ninth, and having to move back up. There's a reason why we finished sixth and that reason is him. There's a reason why he was voted team MVP for seven straight years."
Lundqvist has won 20 or more games for seven straight seasons.
"All the teams now, everybody has good goalies," Lundqvist said. "The standards are really high and the competition is so hard, you have to put it all in to stay up there. It's about pushing yourself. It doesn't always have to go your way.
"It was important to ask myself the right questions during the season. Am I doing the right thing here? Do I have to change something? Even though it's a team sport, for me, it's about what I'm doing."
Rangers coach John Tortorella has said that Lundqvist was "the backbone" of the team. He repeated that Wednesday: "He's a special athlete, as far as just how he plays, and just how he competes."