Almost forgot … my column from The Journal News and lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH – Know this. The Rangers will play a team with a ton more playoff experience and recent Stanley Cup jewelry. They will have, on their own side, a couple of guys who won a Cup together 10 years ago and are aching to do it again.
They have a bunch of players hitting their primes with a hunger to finish off this opportunity after coming close, but not nearly close enough, just two years ago.
And the guy behind the Rangers and in front of the Los Angeles Kings — the guy in the mask and the crown, who goes by the nickname “King” — will want it more than all of them.
Henrik Lundqvist will have to be at his best to finally win the Stanley Cup. Maybe better than he’s ever been, and he’s been pretty darn spectacular for most of this playoff run, and most of his career.
That tumbling, drop-the-stick, windmill save he made in the 1-0 Game 6 clinching shutout over Montreal Thursday will be one for the ages. More so if it ends up with a parade.
Lundqvist tied Mike Richter’s franchise playoff shutouts record in Game 6, broke Richter’s franchise playoff wins record. He is the reason the Rangers will play a ninth series in three years, starting Wednesday, especially with his 5-1 career record in Game 7s, with a 1.00 goals-against average and .965 save percentage. And his 10-2, 1.32, and .957 in the last 12 facing elimination.
He will, at least until proven otherwise, be the better goalie in the series, and the most important player on either team.
On Sunday it was back to work for Lundqvist and the Rangers, after two days off.
“You try to relax, but it’s hard because you know it’s coming,” Lundqvist said about the down time. “You know what’s ahead and it’s so exciting. So you take two days to reflect a little bit where you are, but also where you want to go from here.”
That’s been his mantra. Where he wants to go. He has repeatedly said how important it is for him, and his teammates, to “leave it all out there.” He had a sniff in 2012. He can surely get a better one now.
On Thursday, his teammates made life fairly easy on Lundqvist, throwing a wet blanket over the Canadiens. Still, there was the windmill save, and later a soccer-style header of a shot he sent into the screen above the glass. His performance was regal, again, even after being pulled, for the second time in these playoffs, in Game 5.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “You think a lot, and going into the playoffs you talked about it is a roller coaster mentally. You have so many highs. You have a few lows where you’re questioning a lot of things, but then you just have to make up your mind. You can’t have any excuses.
“But it’s definitely a test mentally when you play a game like that. And in the position you’re in, you have so much to lose, but also so much to win. You just have to look at it the right way.”
The whole season has been that way. A struggle from the start, a new contract negotiation he later admitted was distracting.
“It was definitely a tough stretch,” he said. “One of the toughest I’ve had in my career.”
So he was asked Sunday if that adverstity can help him over the next two or three weeks, the final rungs on the ladder.
“Good question,” Lundqvist said. “I think it definitely helps you to appreciate the good times and understand, when you go through a tough stretch, what you should focus on and who you should listen to and who you should stay away from.”
“It’s been a tough season, and you learn a lot about yourself and you have to go through different types of stretches, good and bad. But I think it helped this team to get stronger, get together, and when you’re in a tough spot, you really have to come together as a group to get out of it. You can’t do it on your own. It doesn’t matter how much you want it. You need to get on the same page. So I think that early stretch really tested us mentally and helped us regroup.”
On the day Lundqvist signed his new seven-year, $59.5 million contract, which kicks in next season, Rangers GM Glen Sather praised his person, made a crack about his taste in fashion, then looked at his team’s best player.
“It’s up to you, Henry,” Sather said. “Now just carry us on your shoulders.”
And he has. All aboard.
BROTHERLY ADVICE: Marc Staal said he’s spoken with his brothers — Eric, who won the Cup with Carolina in 2006, and Jordan, who lost in a final in ‘08 and won the Cup in ‘09 with Pittsburgh.
“Jordan’s been twice, Eric’s been once; both have had success and non-success,” Staal said. ”(They said) ‘it’s a different animal.’ They’re like anyone: ‘Just go out there, enjoy it, and leave it all out there and see what happens.’ ”
AV THE DJ: Alain Vigneault was talking about how he’s evolved as a coach, and gave this as an example:
“It might sound stupid but I always, for a 7 p.m. game, 6:30 warmups, at 6 my teams always shut the music off in the dressing room,” Vigneault said.
When he got to New York, after a few exhibition games with the music cut off early, “a couple guys came in and see me and said, ‘We’re not used to this.’ So I said, ‘OK, we’ll go to 6:15.’ After a couple weeks a couple more guys said, ‘Listen, we’d like to play music until warmups start.’
“I said, ‘OK, fine. If that’s how you’re going to get in your zone, go ahead and do it.’ You’ve got to understand where your players are coming from. Each player has to be handled differently, and it takes a bit of time.”
Vigneault was asked who came to him and he smiled. “The first guy who came to see me was Dan (Girardi) … and I think he was doing it for Hank (Lundqvist).”
Photo by USA Today.