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Michael Farber
April 30, 2007
Crown Jewel
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April 30, 2007

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Crown Jewel

In leading the Rangers to a sweep of the Thrashers, goalie Henrik Lundqvist deserved to be treated like royalty

AMONG THE scores of Swedish kings of the past 1,000 years, there have been Sverker the Older, Erik the Lisp and Lame, and six fellows named Gustav, but Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is the first King Henrik. The title was bestowed by the New York Post following some spectacular performances early last season. In this year's playoffs, after allowing only six goals in New York's four-game rout of the Thrashers (the Rangers' first postseason series victory since 1997), Lundqvist has proved that he's worthy of the designation, but a lingering question is the actual size of King Henrik's realm.

The NHL's most underrated goalie, Lundqvist might be the toast of Broadway—and, as Rangers goaltending coach Beno�t Allaire contends, among the top five netminders in the league—but at times he seems to be the No. 3 goalie in the metropolitan area. To the west is the Devils' Martin Brodeur, who is on his way to becoming the winningest goalie in NHL history, and to the east is flamboyant Islanders goalie-for-life Rick DiPietro, whose frenetic style sometimes gives him more the appearance of a court jester.

Even against the Thrashers, Lundqvist—just plain Hank to his teammates—didn't get as much attention as counterpart Kari Lehtonen's electric-blue Mohawk or coach Bob Hartley's goalie merry-go-round of Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg. Lundqvist, who led the NHL in save percentage (93.2%) and goals-against average (1.85) the final two months of the regular season, did nothing crazy except stop a formidable 93.9% of Atlanta's shots. "You rate guys over a career and a body of work," veteran Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan says. "But as far as the present, he's playing as well as anybody I've ever played with."

The Rangers moved on to face the Sabres, who had the league's most prolific offense (3.63 goals per game) during the regular season, and New York will again be forced to rely on its newly found commitment to team defense and Lundqvist. Lundqvist's airtight opening-round performance stood in stark contrast to his first trip to the NHL playoffs last spring, when the former Swedish Elite League MVP allowed 13 goals in three games and missed a start (sore right hip flexor and migraines) in the Rangers' first-round capitulation to the Devils. The stunning thing was not that Lundqvist was sidelined by headaches but that he confessed to them at a time of year when a player will show up in the dressing room in an ankle cast and claim he is day-to-day with the flu. Despite backstopping Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in Turin last year, the Rangers suspect job-related stress might have been involved. "There was some thought that a big game for him was a kind of tumultuous event," assistant general manager Don Maloney says. Lundqvist demurs, saying, "I wasn't that nervous."

Grinding his teeth at night may have contributed to Lundqvist's headaches, but medication has cleared up the problem. It was his pearly row of choppers that likely helped persuade PEOPLE magazine to feature Lundqvist in its 100 Most Beautiful People issue last year. Curiously, Lundqvist's identical twin brother, Joel, now a center on the Stars, didn't make the list. A smiling King Henrik attributes that fact to his maturity (he's 40 minutes older), but a more likely explanation is Joel was playing in Sweden last season—and everyone knows there are no beautiful people in Sweden.

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