Henrik Lundqvist's Chance at Greatness on the Line in Rangers' Playoff Run

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Henrik Lundqvist's Chance at Greatness on the Line in Rangers' Playoff Run
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PART I, THE GLASS-HALF-EMPTY OUTLOOK - Look, I kneel on the pews inside the Church of Henrik just like any blue-blooded New York Rangers fan.

The King of Flow, the Sartorial Swede—I'm a convert. He's the man. But you're not The Man until you actually, you know, win something in the good old hockey game.

Tuesday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Montreal will be the 32-year-old Lundqvist's first career chance at winning a closeout game of a conference final. At worst, he will have three chances to do so, to get the Rangers into their first Stanley Cup final since 1994.

Ben Hider/Associated Press

Lundqvist's career playoff record is 41-44, and I get it that the record is a poor indication of his overall play. His career postseason saves percentage is .922, which is very good for so many games. But to shut the mouths of smart-alecks like me, he must get on the plus side of wins to losses in the playoffs. If you are what your record says you are, to quote that noted hard-ass Bill Parcells, Lundqvist technically is a playoff loser.

He still has to prove he can win the biggest of postseason games, starting with Tuesday's in Montreal. Arguably, the last time Lundqvist had a chance to demonstrate he was the best in the biggest of games, he was a dismal failure. That was Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern finals against New Jersey at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers got three goals for Hank, a bountiful number for that team. But Lundqvist allowed four goals on 16 Devils shots in a 5-3 Rangers loss to take a 3-2 series lead, and Jersey went on to play for the Cup with a Game 6 win.

Most of the time, it wasn't Lundqvist's fault the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs. But it was in 2012. He was good, but not great, in the Rangers' 12-game playoff run in 2013, which finished with a five-game, second-round loss to Boston.

This postseason, Lundqvist is doing all the right things to prove he's a true winner. Two Game 7 victories for him so far, one on the road in Pittsburgh. But he needs to win one more against the Canadiens to finally play for the big prize. He'll still face "He's great, but he's still never won it all" storylines if the Rangers advance to the next, final round.

 

PART II: SHUT UP, IT'S KING HENRY

Of course, Lundqvist will win one of the next three games against the Carey Price-less Habs. Why so negative, Dater? It's a team sport, and a goalie can only do so much. He can't score the goals too.

The Rangers would not be where they are right now without Lundqvist. Period, end of column. He will get his first Eastern Conference championship, and be great in the Cup finals.

And I do believe he will/would be. He's as dialed in right now as any goalie I've seen in a while, or at least the last time I saw Jonathan Quick

I remember how people like me used to dog Ed Belfour because he hadn't won the big one. Patrick Roy was the guy who could win the big ones, because he was a "money goalie" and Belfour just wasn't. Then, Eddie the Eagle beat Roy in successive Game 7s of the Western Conference finals, in 1999 and 2000, helping Dallas win a Stanley Cup in 1999. 

I see a similar storyline playing out for Lundqvist. The hockey gods don't always reward perseverance, but they do a good deal of the time. Look at Lanny McDonald, Dave Andreychuk and Ray Bourque as examples. And unlike those three, this is not one of Lundqvist's final kicks at the can. He's only 32. Tim Thomas won his first Stanley Cup at 38. 

Lundqvist, if you believe that winning is a "process", is right on track to win a championship. He's five wins away from true hockey greatness, from immortality. He's learned from history, and making the right decisions in keeping recent Rangers playoff disappointments from repeating themselves.

 

PART III: THE TRUTH WILL COME OUT

There is no gray area: Lundqvist will always be remembered as a very good goalie.

There will also be no gray area on this: Either Lundqvist will be remembered as just another very good goalie who couldn't win it all, or he'll be toasted for time immemorial by Ranger fans for being a champion. 

That's all sports is in the end. Champion, or no champion. It doesn't matter how fair or unfair it was for certain players as to why or why they didn't finish as one. 

Lundqvist has had some pretty good chances to finish as a champion, but it didn't happen. He's got as good a chance as he's ever had to be one, right now. 

We don't know how this chapter in The Book of King Henry will finish. But we know this: Lundqvist is in the game, still fighting to write history as he hopes to read it.

 

Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995 for The Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter @Adater

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