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New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stretched his padded left leg to stop a puck skimming toward a wide open net, protecting a one-goal lead in Game 6 of Tuesday's Eastern Conference Finals. Down three games to two in the series at the time, the Rangers would stave off elimination, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning by four goals.
For National Hockey League fans, that type of thing has become a familiar sight. In the past two seasons, the Rangers have won nine of 10 elimination playoff games when opponents could have knocked them out with a win.
On Friday night, the squad faces elimination again as it plays the Lightning in Game 7 of the conference finals at Madison Square Garden. Data show that the Rangers ramp up both offensive and defensive performance in elimination games, thanks in part to stellar showings from their goaltender, Lundqvist.
In the past two playoffs, the Rangers have tallied 2.53 goals per game, according to team statistics compiled by CNBC. But when the team faces elimination, it has scored more frequently, lighting the lamp 3.1 times per contest. (Tweet This)
The Rangers have similarly clamped down on their opponents. The squad has allowed 2.3 goals per playoff game in the last two years, but that number drops to 1.6 in elimination games.
Some of the defensive boost can certainly be attributed to Lundqvist.
The goalie has saved 92.8 percent of shots faced in the last two playoffs overall. In elimination games, his save percentage has spiked to 95.7.
To put that change in perspective, Lundqvist has stopped 92.3 percent of shots faced in his postseason career. In any given playoff run, his save percentage has never been lower than 83.5 percent or higher than 93.4 percent, according to NHL statistics.
Lundqvist gets compensated well for flipping the switch in crucial games. The Rangers bet heavily on Lundqvist in December 2013, signing him to a seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension.
"The Rangers pay him top dollar because they know he's a steady producer in big moments, but also because he's a picturesque face of the franchise," said Mike Ginnitti, managing editor at sports contract website Spotrac.
Ginnitti noted that teams often overpay goaltenders in order to sign them to long-term contracts. Some franchises will spend freely to lock up netminders with a strong playoff track record, as well.
Lundqvist cost the franchise $8.5 million in salary cap space this season, the most expensive of any Rangers player and any goalie in the league. His $11 million in total earnings this year—a $3 million base salary plus an $8 million signing bonus—ties him as the league's third highest-paid player by that metric, according to Spotrac.
No other goalie made more than $7.5 million this season.