NEW YORK - The Senators are going to have to dethrone The King if they are to pull off an upset in Round 1.
Henrik “The King” Lundqvist isn’t just a good goalie. He is regarded as one of the NHL’s best. He had a strong enough season to be a favourite for the Vezina Trophy and he’ll get votes for the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.
Lundqvist is the biggest roadblock standing in the way of the Senators and a first-round upset of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. If he plays the way he did en route to earning 39 wins this season, Ottawa could be in big trouble.
If the Rangers are targeting high-scoring Ottawa blueliner Erik Karlsson, then coach Paul MacLean should post a picture of Lundqvist in the Senators dressing room.
“In my opinion, he’s the best guy in the league,” said centre Jason Spezza. “You have to get traffic. You have to make it harder for him to see pucks. We have to make sure that we’re able to get a lot of pucks on him.
“They have a defence on him that works hard and they block up a lot of shots for him. They box out really well and keep you to the outside. There’s going to have to be a lot of second, third (chance) and ugly goals.
“We have to get pucks up on him. He’s probably the best in the league when he’s scrambling and the pucks are at his feet. It’s going to be a real challenge — it’s probably the No. 1 challenge to figure out how to get to him and to score.”
Lundqvist is at a crossroads in his career. He has never won the Stanley Cup and the Rangers have never made it past the second round with him. His Olympic gold medal with Sweden in 2006 in Turin seems like ages ago.
He has won only two of the five playoff series he’s appeared in with New York: First-round victories over the Thrashers in 2007 and the Devils in 2008. The Rangers missed the post-season in 2010. The time is now for him to step up.
“He wants to continue to improve, and he likes the spotlight,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella, “and in all playoff series, the goaltender is always in a big spotlight. I think he’s going to thrive in this situation ... I think this is what he wants; he wants to be there.”
Lundqvist will be facing old friend and fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson. They played together in the world championship in 2004 and in Sweden during the lockout in 2005, they won the gold medal in 2006 and skate together in the summer.
“We’re friends,” said Alfredsson.
So, would there be extra satisfaction in beating a buddy?
“It’s bragging rights for the summer, no question,” said Alfredsson. “Other than that, once the series starts, he’s on the other side, so we’re not going to be buddies during the playoffs.
“I’ve done okay against him. Can’t say I have his number, but I’ve put a few pucks past him.”
There’s going to be a lot of comparisons between Lundqvist and Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson. The Rangers have the edge here, no question. Anderson, who has never won a playoff series at any level, is ignoring the noise.
So, is it Lundqvist vs. Anderson?
“That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it’s always going to be,” said Anderson. “People are going to compare the goaltenders.
“What it comes down to is who is going to give their team the best opportunity to win the game. He’s a great goalie and a Vezina Trophy candidate, he’s given them the opportunity to win every night he gets in there.
“That’s going to be his goal: To give his team a chance to win, as is mine. I just want to make sure, at the end of the 60 minutes, that we have an opportunity to win.”
If Anderson and the Senators can’t beat Lundqvist, it will be lights out for their season.