Can Lundqvist Conquer His Greatest Challenge?

309 career regular season. A gold medal for Sweden in the 2006 Winter Olympic games and silver medal this past February. A Vezina winner in 2011-12 and four-time finalist. Henrik Lundqvist has accomplished a tremendous amount in his nine-year career and shows no signs of halting his meteoric rise to the top of every goaltending statistic in Rangers franchise history.

Lundqvist’s critics? He’s silenced them this postseason. To be fair, Lundqvist already quieted doubters during the ’11-12 playoff run. But to create a narrative out of thin air, detractors quickly point to his under .500 record in the playoffs and say ‘He’s never stolen a series, he’s not that good. And no championships. Why is he called The King?’ That’s fine: Lundqvist just shut down and downright intimidated one of the NHL’s most potent offenses to lead his team to an improbable 3-1 series comeback (the first time in franchise history).

To be in the Conference Final is an honor, meaning the Stanley Cup is well within sight. You can almost grab it. What’s stopping Lundqvist and his team from capturing its first Cup in 20 years? Montreal: Lundqvist’s darkest demon yet to be slain.

Henrik Lundqvist’s struggles against Montreal—specifically at the Bell Centre—are well documented. A 13-11-2 career record against Montreal with .897 save percentage and 2.85 GAA. Those are the worst periphery numbers against any team Lundqvist has faced with at least 10 career starts (owns a 2.94 GAA, .878 SV% in six career starts against Calgary).

In Montreal, curiously, is the real problem. Maybe it’s the mystique. Maybe it’s the electrifying atmosphere of hockey-crazed fans. Whatever the case, Hank has a bugaboo in Quebec. The Rangers have done themselves well to shield Lundqvist this season and prior, who hasn’t played at the Bell Centre since 2012, owning a 4-5-2 career record and hasn’t recorded a victory in that building since 2009.

Now the shackles have to come off Lundqvist. To do great things, you have to be taken out of your comfort zone. Becoming uneasy to find out your true character’s strength. If you’re nervous about what lies ahead for the Rangers, you’ve every right to be.

This season, the Rangers and Canadiens have played each other closer than close to the vest. Their styles are similar: they sacrifice toughness for team speed and like to attack while maintaining defensive footing. Each game resulted in a shutout of some sorts (1-0, 2-0, 1-0) and the Rangers won only once. The season finale being decided in overtime on a penalty shot in a 0-0 game.

Defensive matchup? You bet. Mistakes can’t be made for fear of quick transition? Definitely. For a Rangers team not getting contributions from its top guys yet still winning, the only player who scored against the Habs at all this season was Ryan Callahan.

To say Henrik Lundqvist will have to take his already incredible game to another level to beat Montreal and slay his personal demons against a storied franchise is the understatement of the year. Many wanted the chance to face Boston to exact some revenge for being thrown out with the morning trash in five games last postseason. Lundqvist has had very good success in his career against the Bruins; perhaps they are the better matchup? Yet, the Rangers drew the Canadiens. There’s no way around that. To continue doing the impossible, the Rangers must go through Montreal’s hallowed grounds first.

Is Lundqvist up to the task? I’m sure he relishes the chance to white out one of the last remaining blemishes in his career to date. But can he do it? I don’t think it wise to doubt a King.

Thanks for reading! Follow on Twitter @TheWrage. E-mail: Jwrabel9@hotmail.com

About James Wrabel, Jr.