By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
Go for it, Hank.
He may be tired and he may be overworked, but if the Rangers are going to make the playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist has to continue to be the man.
With the Rangers playing at Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Lundqvist figures to be in goal, as he almost always is.
The Rangers have played 41 games and Lundqvist has played 36 of them. There's simply no time or no place for a rest. Lundqvist is the Rangers' best asset, and if they are going to hold off the Winnipeg Jets or Buffalo Sabres -- and they probably will -- they have to continue to lean on Lundqvist.
He is their best player, and it's not even close. Rick Nash is superbly talented at forward and you can't take anything away from Ryan Callahan, but Lundqvist is probably the best player in the league at the most important position.
It's been this way for a long time. Lundqvist got the hardware that confirmed that belief last year, but he's now playing even better than he did a year ago.
That wasn't the case in the beginning of the season. Instead of being a brick wall in net, Lundqvist was merely good. And that was not good enough for a scoring-starved team like the Rangers.
Through his first 23 games in goal, Lundqvist gave up three or more goals 10 times. Since he didn't give up more than four goals in any of those games and he did that twice, it wasn't like Lundqvist deserved to be taken out back and beaten with sticks.
But it wasn't quite a Vezina Trophy showing.
In the last 13 games, he has given up three or more goals in a game just once (four against Toronto last week). He has been the dominant goalie that the Rangers need him to be, because they can't score more than two or three goals in a game themselves.
In a 48-game season, John Tortorella probably wanted to get Lundqvist just a bit more rest. You can wear out when you have to play three or four games every week.
But there's no time to rest now. The Rangers are not battling Pittsburgh for first place in the Eastern Conference. They are trying to hold off the Winnipeg Jets.
You can't take your best player out of the lineup in the final two weeks because he might feel a bit of fatigue. You prop him up, give him an extra water bottle and send him out for another game.
So what if he's a bit tired when the Rangers play the Penguins in the first round or, hopefully, the Boston Bruins? At least the team would be in and would have a puncher's chance of being able to advance.
There are no rest spots until the Rangers clinch a spot in the postseason. That's not likely to happen until the last or next-to-last game of the season. If there's a game remaining, then you dust off Martin Biron and point him in the direction of the cage.
But not until then. The Rangers have one thoroughbred in Lundqvist. They've got to ride him until he drops from exhaustion.
Will Hank hold it down and lead the Rangers to the playoffs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...
for more features.