Henrik Lundqvist isn't out of the woods yet, but things are starting to look up for Sweden's Olympic netminder. It goes without saying that the Rangers' starter has been less than “royal” thus far, and that led to Lundqvist receiving a role that included routinely opening the team's bench door while Cam Talbot stole the spotlight on Broadway.
You may say that this writer is getting ahead of things—because it has only been a two-game winning streak for Lundqvist—but his play has been starkly different as of late. Lundqvist has given up a few soft goals during the last few games, but he has stayed in the game mentally and physically.
While Talbot could still have a chance to steal the crease, it appears that Lundqvist is continually building off his starts, so don't plan on penciling in the Rangers' backup for consecutive starts in the near future.
Over the last week or so, Lundqvist’s play and on-ice demeanor has been much better, and that is helping to naturally defuse the goalie controversy that has been brewing this season.
Lundqvist is a very cerebral player who can cause more harm than help by overthinking and analyzing, but during the last few games the 2011-12 Vezina winner has looked at home in the crease.
During the Rangers’ early struggles, Lundqvist played the martyr role by taking the onus for playing a large role in many of the losses, and it got to the point where he became overwhelmed with frustration.
Fans then started to doubt King Henrik after Talbot came in and set the world ablaze with a pair of shutouts in back-to-back games. It even got to the point where Prince Talbot started three straight games, and fans were wondering if head coach Alain Vigneault had another cataclysmic controversy on his hands.
Vigneault has skillfully avoided that thus far, and the team has performed admirably over the week and a half. It is easy to see the Rangers have been an upswing of late if you are a diehard fan, but the casual fans reading this may be asking themselves; "What has been different as of late?"
It looked dicey for a while, but a tight schedule has played a role in artificially eliminating a controversy. Lundqvist has been getting a blend of rest and playing time, and the Rangers have won six of their last 10 games.
In addition, the Rangers have only allowed two goals in their past two wins, a number that is very familiar for a team that has been defensively stingy over the past few years.
If you take a look at the Rangers' overall goals against numbers from the past five or so years, you will see that they have finished within the top five or top 10.
This is an impeccable statistic, and Lundqvist's elite play has been tantamount to the team's overall success during that timespan. With that in mind, it is easy to see why the Rangers struggled early on the season while Lundqvist was battling through adversity.
Adversity is a good word, because it not only describes the team's up-and-down battle this season, but it also is a theme that can describe the Blueshirts' play as of late.
The Rangers got off to a roaring start against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night, but the team found themselves in a tie game after some mistakes.
The Rangers kept plugging away until they found a way to break the tie, and then Lundqvist did the rest to secure a victory. Lundqvist had to make multiple point-blank saves on shots from elite players such as Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and he didn't seem to break a sweat during the process.
After an uplifting win against the Blackhawks, the Rangers returned to New York, and Lundqvist seized an opportunity to gain momentum.
During Friday's thriller against the Dallas Stars, the script once again called for overcoming adversity and some late heroics in the third period. This time it was Rick Nash playing the role of hero in the dying minutes, but Lundqvist's steady play throughout the last 30 minutes gave his team a chance to win.
He made a key save on Tyler Seguin just prior to Nash’s amazing goal, and once again the King was able to leave his throne as a winner and a key performer.
In his last five starts, Lundqvist has a 3-1-1 record. He is gaining confidence, is tracking the puck better and simply looks calmer in net. He is making shooters beat him, and he is giving up less of the net than earlier in the season.
If Lundqvist continues to play his game, the Rangers could go on an impressive run during the second half. That will allow them to lock up a playoff spot early, and then Vigneault can turn the keys over to Talbot as Lundqvist rests for the playoffs.
It may be premature to say that Hank is back, but he is definitely starting to put a damper on the flames of a goaltending controversy.
Stats via NHL.com