How confidence and big game composure are forming Henrik Lundqvist's legacy

by May 14, 2:47 AM

One year ago to this very day, In Goal Magazine ran a post by Kevin Woodley on Henrik Lundqvist that led with this passage:

As if digging his New York Rangers out of a 2-0 and 3-2 first-round holes wasn’t enough, Lundqvist did it with consecutive shutouts against the Washington Capitals, following up Sunday’s tense 27-save, 1-0 shutout with a 35-stop, 5-0 blanking in Game 7 on the road on Monday.

He continued by noting that Lundqvist is a Vezina winner who’s been nominated for the award five times (a far bigger testament than his single win), and by asking if the Rangers keeper is the game’s best goalie.

Fair question then, fair question now.

Flash forward a year. This time, the Rangers goaltender has pulled his team out of a 3-1 deficit against the Penguins and advanced them to the Eastern Conference Final by stopping 102 of the opposition’s past 105 shots on net - without giving up more than a single goal in any of the final three games.

Lundqvist is in the midst of building his career legacy, that of a composed, confident goaltender who seems to challenge the playoffs’ biggest moments to beat him, instead of the opposite. He’s been an absolute rock.

The “all-hail Lundqvist” stats are justifiably everywhere today, so let’s rattle the interesting ones off with minimal filler:

  • He’s now won five straight Game 7’s, breaking a tie he shared with greats Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour. (Okay, fine, Cam Ward too, but it’s almost more impressive if that’s omitted at this point.)
  • The only goaltenders with five Game 7 wins total are Patrick Roy (six, with five losses), Martin Brodeur (six, with seven losses), and Ed Belfour (five, with one loss). Like Belfour, Lundqvist is 5-1, only losing his first attempt in 2009 to Washington.
  • Over those past five Game 7’s, Lundqvist has yet to allow more than a single goal. His GAA over that stretch is 0.80, his save percentage .973 (including a shutout).
  • Prior to Tuesday night’s stellar 35 save performance, his record in his last 11 elimination games was 9-2 with a .955 save percentage and a 1.35 goals against.

When a man gets inducted into the Hall-of-Fame, when his career gets defined, these are the type of numbers they cite. When the pressure was greatest and his teammates needed him most, he was consistently dominant.

I was curious about Lundqvist and what seems to separate him in these situations, so I reached out to our goaltending guru mentioned earlier, Kevin Woodley, for some further analysis. Below are some excerpts from our chat.

If it’s Lundqvist’s technique that allows him to succeed under pressure:

There may be something to his simple, positional style, which relies less on rhythm and timing, both of which are more susceptible to disruption by nerves.

 Benoit Allaire has a simple plan: beat the pass and solve the equation. When Hank is at his best it looks like Tuesday - short, quick movements from one save position to next, whether he’s on his knees or skates. And pucks rarely get through him, so he makes you beat him with a great shot.

It’s not all technique though, and that seems to be an important point of emphasis.

At the end of the day, technique may be a factor, but I always look at it between the pipes because i can quantify it...but this may be as much between the ears.

 Of course, it's easier to be mentally strong when your faith in what you’re doing is so absolute. It’s one less thing to have rattling around up there.

Woodley also added a quote from Patrick Roy on Semyon Varlamov which references what he’s talking about above. 

Roy:

"Technique is good as a reference. But when you are playing, goaltending is still the same – it's confidence. How confident are you in yourself? Now Varly has a really good mix."

Lundqvist is obviously technically sound, but he does seem to deal well with being needed, and badly, more than your average keeper.

In the big picture, he already has a reputation of performing well when it matters - you’ve seen the numbers when the chips are down. He owns Olympic gold. He’s started in 574 NHL games with a .920 save percentage, as well as 81 playoff games with a .922. He’s been one of the game’s best for nearly a decade.

At 32-years-old with a contract that runs through 2021, he’s got a legit shot at the “all-time greats” echelon. The only thing left to add to the resume is that elusive Stanley Cup, which, like it or not, fair or not, is still considered to be the icing the Greatest Players need on their cake.

But as it’s been with all pressure throughout his career, it doesn’t seem to phase hockey’s King all that much. Your plan between rounds, Henrik?

I don’t know I might take a break from hockey and not watch anything and not listen to anything. We’ll see. It’s been so intense the last couple of days and it’s really important to reload physically and mentally. We’ll see if I’ll watch.

Doesn’t seem like he needs a brown paper bag or anything. I’m guessing he’ll be okay.

Boston or Montreal await him next, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see either team force him to put his streak on the line. 

Would you bet against him if they did?

Feature photo courtesy of Action Images