Henrik Lundqvist summoned the steely resolve that has defined his career when he was suddenly pressed into playoff action with Igor Shesterkin sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
Though the Rangers were defeated by the Carolina Hurricanes in their qualifying round opener, the 38-year-old Lundqvist performed at a level that mirrored some of his most celebrated postseason performances.
The Rangers had planned to ride the wave of Shesterkin's superlative shot-stopping into the playoffs, but Lundqvist is no ordinary "Plan B." He demonstrated on Saturday how he can provide reliability for however long Shesterkin is unavailable.
Lundqvist did everything possible to keep in Blueshirts in a Game 1 where Carolina dominated territory, possession, and shooting differential. The Rangers were outshot 37-26 and Lundqvist saved 34 shots to the tune of a .919 save percentage.
It was a game that shouldn't have ended 3-2. The final score would have been lopsided if not for Lundqvist's series of quick-reaction double saves and crucial interventions when the Rangers sloppily turned over the puck and ceded space for Hurricanes surges on net.
Though Shesterkin practiced on Sunday, it is unclear whether he'll be given the green light to start Monday's Game 2. If Shesterkin is unable to dress on Monday or at some point is again unavailable to start, Lundqvist offers the experience of a goaltender who has started 128 consecutive playoff games while maintaining a sparkling .922 career postseason save percentage.
Thirty-four saves on 37 total shots, including 11 of 12 while shorthanded. That's not bad for a Plan B, not bad for a goaltender who was counted out by some and considered by others as a relic of the past who wouldn't be on the Rangers' roster if not for his $8.5 million price tag.
At points of this season, Lundqvist was relegated to third-string behind a pair of higher-performing youngsters in Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. At times, he could only look on from the press box. At times, he probably wondered if he had played his last game as a Ranger.
But Lundqvist has never been an ordinary goaltender, and if the Rangers need to call on him again this series, he's going to give his team a shot of winning every time he stands between the pipes.