Heat on Games goalies

With a week to go, some big name Olympic stoppers mirred in slumps

By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

NEW YORK -- If you hear a collective sigh of relief coming all the way from Stockholm these days, it's understandable.

King Henrik, after all, is back. And not a moment too soon. While Team Sweden officials were not yet panicking during the recent six-game losing streak of Olympic starter Henrik Lundqvist, there had to be a bit of angst. After all, any hopes of defending their Olympic title rest squarely on the broad shoulders of the New York Rangers goaltender, who led Sweden to the crown four years ago in Turin.

Fortunately, Lundqvist seemed to be his normal calm spectacular self Saturday against the New Jersey Devils, kicking out 41 shots in a 3-1 victory that finally ended his personal string of defeats.

Heading into Vancouver, Canada and Russia are the glamour picks to win gold, curiously leaving the defending champs somehow under the radar. Lundqvist will be quick to tell you that's just fine, since it takes a lot of the pressure off.

Basically a humble guy, Lundqvist exudes a quiet confidence which rubs off on his teammates. He has good reason to. In 2006, he was saddled with the unenviable role of being the man to replace Tommy Salo as Team Sweden's No. 1 goalie.

Salo, of course, was a national goat in Sweden after flubbing a long shot against Belarus that cost the Tre Kroners a shot at the gold at the Salt Lake City games in 2002.

Instead of wilting under the spotlight, Lundqvist valiantly rose to the occasion in Turin four years later, becoming a national hero in the process.

With all that under his belt, he kept believing in himself even during his losing skid.

"I didn't think I was that bad," he told the Toronto Sun. "You just have to keep battling."

He's done that. And the Swedish Olympic brass couldn't be happier. For now.

Gloomy goaltending

Lundqvist is not the only big-name Olympic goalie who has been on a slide heading into Vancouver. He has plenty of company in that regard.

* Team Canada's Martin Brodeur of the Devils is just 2-3 the past two weeks, including the loss to Lundqvist's Rangers on Saturday.

* Prior to leading his Vancouver Canucks to a 3-2 shootout win in Boston on Saturday, Canada's Roberto Luongo was pulled after allowing three first-period goals to the Maple Leafs on Jan. 30, then dropped a 3-2 decision to the Habs in his hometown of Montreal on Feb. 2.

* The third Canadian goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, dropped a pair of games over the weekend. After being yanked in a 5-3 defeat to the Canadiens on Saturday, he was on the losing end of a 5-4 overtime decision to the high-flying Capitals on Sunday.

* Team USA's Ryan Miller, the backbone of the Buffalo Sabres, is just 2-5 in his past seven appearances and is mired in a three-game losing streak.

* Team Finland starter Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames is 3-10 in his past 13 starts.

* Russia's Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks has allowed three or more goals in three of his past four starts.

The hottest Olympic goalie? American Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, who has won nine consecutive games.

Cross checks

With Vancouver looming, Brodeur admits using practice to study the tendencies of teammates on opposing Olympic squads such as Americans Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner. "I've started to monitor their habits a bit closer out there," said Brodeur, whose Canadians meet Team USA on Feb. 21 ... Told that Brodeur would do the same to him now that he's a Devil, recently acquired Ilya Kovalchuk laughed. "I can help him scout our whole (Russian) team if he wants," Kovalchuk joked ... Luongo, meanwhile, has noticed something different with the non-Canadian Olympians on the Canucks during warmup. Said a chuckling Luongo: "They are shooting higher on me, especially the Sedins." The Swedish twins wouldn't do that, would they?

The week ahead

The Kings will attempt to extend their winning streak to 10 on Monday in Anaheim ... The Caps try for a 15th consecutive victory when they visit Montreal on Wednesday ... Team Canada will hold it's first practice at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time Sunday in Vancouver.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA

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