NEW YORK, May 29 (Reuters) - Just two days after one of the worst nights of his professional career, Henrik Lundqvist was celebrating one of his greatest successes, leading the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup appearance in two decades.
The Swedish goalie is already a cult figure in the Big Apple after spending years saving goals for the Rangers but his popularity soared to legendary status after his roller-coaster week ended in spectacular triumph.
On Tuesday, in Montreal, the Rangers coach Alain Vigneault took the extraordinary step of pulling Lundqvist from the game after he gave up four goals inside the first two periods.
For a player who was named the National Hockey League’s outstanding netminder in 2012, it was a humiliating experience. And on that his legions of fans in New York were still coming to grips with.
But on Thursday, Lundqvist was back in the thick of the action, recalled to the starting lineup for Game Six of the series, and he responded in brilliant fashion, stopping all 18 shots that were fired at him as the Rangers won 1-0 to clinch the series.
“It’s been tough,” he later admitted.
”I kept telling myself all day, believe in what you’re doing.
“I’ve been in that spot before. It gets silly, you get pulled. You have a tough game, but you just have to stay confident.”
With the crowd at Madison Square Garden chanting his name throughout the contest, Lundqvist held his nerve to register his first shutout of the series, including one jaw-dropping save from Thomas Vanek that immediately went viral on the internet.
Deflecting from his own performance, he said: ”I didn’t have to do much today, the guys played so great.
”But you still have to be in the right place mentally to make the few saves and the shots I had to face.
“It’s definitely a test mentally when you play a game like that. And in the position you’re in, you have so much to lose, but also so much to win. You just have to look at it the right way.”
Vigneault, who said his decision to pull Lundqvist from the previous game was part of a ploy to jolt the whole team into action after a lacklustre display, was full of praise for his bearded netminder, who won a silver medal for Sweden at this year’s Sochi Olympics.
“He was totally focused. He was probably a little upset tonight coming into the game,” the coach said.
”I don’t know if it was because of the opportunity or if he was upset with the way it ended in Montreal in Game Five but he was definitely focused, and those are not easy games to play.
“There is not a lot of work, but you’ve got to stay sharp. He had to make some good saves, and he did.” (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)