NEW YORK -- It is not easy to embarrass Henrik Lundqvist, unless, of course, you tell him he is the best athlete in New York. At his Madison Square Garden locker Wednesday, after he was done saying all the tempered things a franchise player needs to say when leading 2-0 in an Eastern Conference finals, a reporter approached Lundqvist with the following premise:
Derek Jeter is retiring, and Martin Brodeur isn't far behind. Carmelo Anthony has missed the playoffs, and Eli Manning has been temporarily sacked. The Nets are the Nets, the Jets are the Jets, and the Mets are most certainly the Mets, leaving the King as the certified king of the big city, and everything his injured buddy Matt Harvey aspires to be.
Lundqvist laughed an uncomfortable laugh upon hearing a summary of the above.
"Well, I don't know," he said. "It's flattering that you say it that way. It's kind of hard to compare athletes from different sports. How can you, really? There are so many great players in all the major sports in this city."
"I would never discuss it that way, but if you want to do that, that's fine," Lundqvist said before letting go of another laugh. "It makes me a little uncomfortable. In hockey, to have success you really need your teammates to support you and help you play your game. When you're a good hitter in baseball, you hit the ball and that's it. But for me to be able to play at a good level, I need to feel the support. I need at critical moments to get that block, to get that stick in the way. That's made me feel great the last couple of months."
Truth is, a hockey goalie controls the outcome of a game in ways that other athletes (NFL quarterbacks included) cannot. Truth is, Lundqvist has elevated his team more than his team has elevated him, even if Montreal's P.K. Subban suggested that the dominant force in this series isn't the opposing goalie but the four-leaf clover the opposing goalie has tucked inside his pads.
Earth to Subban: Even to the untrained hockey eye, Lundqvist is a lot of things, and lucky ain't one of 'em.
Of course, Lundqvist was willing to play along with this low, two-day drama after his Garden practice, conceding that any athlete in a game so fast and unpredictable needs a friendly bounce or three before reminding reporters that the hardest workers usually "earn those bounces." This was the goalie's subtle way of turning away yet another shot from the Canadiens, who fired 41 on net in Game 2, 40 of them in vain.
"It's definitely an important position, goalie, and going into big games I think you definitely feel the pressure," Lundqvist told ESPNNewYork.com. "But you try to look at it as a fun challenge, to have a big part in the outcome. You know if you don't play well, you're not going to win. You know that.