The New York Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators 2-1 on Thursday night, clinching their opening round series in the 2012 NHL playoffs and advancing to meet the rival Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
As usual for the club, defense and goaltending led the way. However, the team's defenseman also chipped in with both of the team's goals.
In a span of about four minutes in the second period, Marc Staal scored, and then fellow standout blueliner Dan Girardi followed that up with a strike of his own. It was each man's first goal of the postseason, and it was enough to seal the victory for the Rangers.
Those two goals wouldn't have stood up though without Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist was recently announced as one of three finalists for this year's Vezina Trophy (and as I wrote - he deserves to win) and his play was stellar throughout the seven game series against Ottawa.
He finished with a .945 Save Percentage, a 1.70 GAA and one shutout to give the Rangers the crucial edge they needed to outlast a tough stylistic challenge from the Senators, who also received better than expected goaltending from up-and-down netminder Craig Anderson.
For Lundqvist it's not just about sheer numbers, though. It's about making crucial saves in the biggest moments. As the Senators rallied in the closing minutes of the game, Lundqvist was absolutely sublime in net.
His display of brilliant reflexes, athleticism and instincts to turn away would-be goals at the last moment has become so routine that it's almost easy to take for granted. Oh, just another day at the office between the pipes for King Henrik!
In the NHL postseason, goaltending isn't just an equalizer or a difference maker, in many cases it can be all that matters. Lundqvist is the King for a reason, and he has an opportunity to continue leading his club further into the 2012 NHL playoffs.
The Rangers now advance into a juicy match-up against the Capitals, who defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the opening round, also in a seven game series.
The Capitals eliminated the Rangers each of the last two times that the Blueshirts made the playoffs, but now the tables have been turned, as New York will enjoy home ice.
I, for one, relish the opportunity to take on Washington once again. Of course, as I've mentioned before, that's partly for selfish reasons. Living in the D.C. suburbs, I love to wear blue in the red zone, and support New York amidst the sea of ravenous red revelers in the nation's capital.
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Sources: BlueshirtsUnited.com, Rangers.NHL.com, NHL.com