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  • Make that four wins to no losses for Henrik Lundqvist in outdoors games.
By Michael Blinn
January 01, 2018

NEW YORK -- Heading into Monday's Winter Classic tilt with the Buffalo Sabres, Henrik Lundqvist was already perfect. When the final buzzer sounded after J.T. Miller's overtime heroics and the fireworks lit up the sky over Citi Field, the Rangers goalie was a little bit more so.

The 31-save effort to backstop the New York Rangers to a 3-2 win on New Year's Day gave the man known as The King another notch on a crown adorned with outdoor hockey triumphs. There was the 34-save outing in the 2012 Winter Classic victory over the Flyers. Another pair in 2014 Stadium Series wins over the Islanders and Devils. And with Monday's success, Lundqvist improved upon his already perfect record in the elements to 4-0.

The unblemished outdoor resume, however, hasn't gone to his head.

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"I haven't thought that much of it right now," he said. "It's more about this game, not so much about the past. We had different types of teams throughout the years, but today it was all about today."

Had Lundqvist not kept himself in the moment, things could have come crashing down late. Sabres forward Jack Eichel found Zemgus Girgensons all alone in the slot with 2:20 left, forcing the Swedish netminder to flash the left pad for a big save to keep the score knotted at two.

"I think playing a game like this, it's kind of like playing bowl championships or Olympics or even a Game 7, where this is it: One mistake could cost you the game and kind of the memory of it as well," he said. "So you have to be really sharp and stay on top of things. So last seven, eight minutes I know the next goal is going to be a winner. It's going to be tough to come back from that. So every chance we had or they had, it was like, OK, game's on the line here."

"It was an enormous save by Hank," defenseman Brady Skjei said. "Best players show up in the biggest games. He's definitely one of those guys."

Lundqvist has relished those opportunities, going 4 for 4 en route to racking up more outdoor wins than any other NHL goalie. While records are special—he also tied Tony Esposito for eighth in all-time NHL wins with his 423rd—so are each of the outdoor games he's played in.

"Everyone had its own feel to it, and I enjoyed every experience," he said. "You know what, you don't play that many times outside. So obviously every game means a lot to you, you want to make the most of it. And it's game 38 or something for us, but when you're playing this game, this is it. That's the only one."

For outdoor win No. 4, Lundqvist had to battle through some of the game's looming nemeses. He quickly adjusted to the sun and shadows before dealing with the Sabres' late push following a series of Rangers' penalties in the second half of the first period, though he spent the afternoon dealing with a faster ice surface than normal.

"That was probably the toughest part for me, to not slide out of the situation because you had so much speed coming into every situation," Lundqvist said. With the gametime temperature at 20 degrees, the puck itself became a bouncing obstacle to maintaining perfection for the Rangers goalie.

"It was a couple times where the puck bounced right in front of me, and it's hard to know how high it is going to bounce here," he said.

For Lundqvist's teammates, there was little doubt he would get things under control from the get-go. 

"He's such a competitor," Skjei said. "He's so focused, it's really fun to watch him before the game in warmups. He's so dialed in, it's night-in, night-out and that's one thing. As a young guy, I've caught on to that. It showed what you have to do to be a really good player in this league."

Perfect, even.

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