'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Henrik Lundqvist vs. Jonathan Quick. The Vezina Trophy race has been described as a 'dead-heat.' Well, is it?
Local bias aside, I've studied Quick and the Kings very closely. Los Angeles struggles mightily every night to put the puck in the net. The Kings have only scored 187 goals this season, ranking them 29th of all 30 NHL clubs.
This places a tremendous burden on Quick but should it be the overwhelming factor in awarding him the Vezina Trophy? I think not.
Consider for a moment the divisional strength of the Atlantic Division in comparison to that of the Pacific Division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the highest-scoring team in the NHL with 273 goals and the Philadelphia Flyers rank 3rd overall in the league with 260 goals. In addition, the New Jersey Devils boast slightly better scorers (222) than the San Jose Sharks who lead all Pacific Division teams with 219 goals.
Through 19 Atlantic Division match-ups, Lundqvist has posted a 14-5-0 record with an outstanding goals against average of 1.84 and save percentage of .936.
Also, throw into the equation that Lundqvist faced the Boston Bruins on four occasions and has done an excellent job denying the second-best scoring team in the NHL. The Bruins have scored 262 goals this season but only were able to put 7 goals past Lundqvist over 4 games.
Lundqvist's record against Boston is 3-1 with a sparkling goals against average of 1.73 and a save percentage of .946.
Quick is undoubtedly a very talented net-minder coming into his own but Lundqvist gives you the feeling that he competes against tougher opposition on more frequent basis and excels under that kind of pressure.
'King Henrik' was under tremendous pressure on Tuesday night as the Flyers unleashed 40 shots on goal. Lundqvist was up to the task, brushing aside 37 shots. His teammates weren't doing him many favors either as the Rangers' couldn't keep themselves out of the penalty box.
What began as a 4-0 Rangers lead could have turned into an entirely different game had Lundqvist not risen to the occasion, making multiple highlight-reel saves and shutting down 7 of 8 Flyers' powerplay opportunities.
Following the victory, Rangers' head coach John Tortorella told reporters it was the "most confident" he'd seen Lundqvist play for weeks.
Many of the Flyers kept looking up at the Wells Fargo Center ceiling pondering what they had to do beat Lundqvist after he made one unbelievable save after another. The Rangers eventually won 5-3 and clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
"That first five-six minutes, he made some key saves for us. He had a huge one on Simmonds. I thought (it) was a huge turning point," Marc Staal told MSG's John Giannone post-game.
While making a sprawling save, Lundqvist took a puck in an unprotected area on his right forearm. He was wearing a large ice pack after the game and told reporters he lost feeling in his arm and had difficulty gripping his stick.
"I was struggling the whole third period. I told Marty (Biron) to be ready in-case I couldn't go. I couldn't really hold the stick. It was tough. I wanted to stay out there, " Lundqvist explained to Giannone.
"We'll see how it feels in two days. It's gonna be sore tomorrow. Hopefully I'm okay for next game. It was tough. When you don't have (balance) you get a little insecure but it worked out today," he concluded.
Ryan McDonagh spoke to Andrew Gross of The Record about Lundqvist's importance to the Rangers. "Words really can't describe how important he is and how well he's played."
Whether or not Lundqvist goes on to win personal hardware this summer at the NHL Awards, it's clear that Lundqvist's sensational play has the Rangers thinking of bigger things than individual awards.
Locking up the Eastern Conference might just be the first of many celebrations for the Rangers in the coming months...
Is Lundqvist the Vezina Trophy favorite or does Quick make a more compelling case? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.
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