Don’t mess with Henrik Lundqvist right now


Not until the morning.

Not until Saturday morning will Henrik Lundqvist turn his focus to the Game 6 potential opening-round clincher at the Garden against the Canadiens that night.

“I put so much energy into every game, that I won’t think about it until morning of game day,” Lundqvist told The Post following Thursday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Montreal put his team on the brink of advancing to Round Two. “Maybe for a minute or two right before I go to sleep on Friday, but I won’t focus on it until the next morning.”

Lundqvist and the Rangers have been here and done that many, many times before. Not to perfection, of course, not with that 2015 Game 7 conference finals defeat to the Lightning an irreversible pimple on this era’s landscape on that night on which Aura and Mystique were nothing more than the names of dancers in a gentleman’s club, to steal a phrase from Curt Schilling.

But the fact is that the King and his Court have played nine potential clinchers at the Garden beginning in 2007 and have won seven of them, the other exception the Game 6 defeat to the Caps for which head coach John Tortorella was suspended in the 2009 Water Bottle series that the Blueshirts ultimately lost in seven after holding a 3-1 lead.

Seven for nine for Lundqvist. Seven for nine for Dan Girardi. Seven for nine for Marc Staal.

“I’ll think about it for a little bit before going to bed [on Thursday] and then I’ll start to focus on it during the day on Friday,” Staal said. “You don’t want to get ahead of yourself and you don’t want to overthink it.

“But a chance to close it out at the Garden? It’s special.”

The Rangers played their most poised hockey of the series through the late stages of Game 5, carrying the play for shift after shift over most of the final 35 minutes while Alain Vigneault studiously rolled four lines. The coach was rewarded when up to a half-dozen forwards — including Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey — dramatically raised the level of their play.

Vesey, the young man who seemed to wear down through the second half of his first pro season, seems born for playoff hockey. He’s mixed it up along the boards, sparred with Canadiens and thrown himself into the fray with both abandon and a smile/sneer on his face. This one is a keeper.

The Rangers have gotten better as this series has evolved. They have established a foothold they could not create through the final six weeks of the regular season, during which they went only 8-9-4. They’ve absorbed far more body blows than they have inflicted, but they have persevered and found the way to defeat Carey Price three times in five games within eight days after previously having beaten the Montreal goaltender twice in 14 games dating back to mid-November 2011.

They have established a foothold and they have created an opportunity to advance. Ryan McDonagh is at the top of his game, playing with a fierce sense of pride and purpose that befits his role as captain of this team.

A few short days ago, after that Game 3 defeat that extended their miserable playoff losing streak at the Garden to six straight, everything Rangers was in question. Now, the Rangers have the chance to turn the punctuation mark into an exclamation point.

Of course they will face pressure. But make no mistake, so will the Canadiens, who entered the series as overwhelming favorites and who have played with a chip on their collective shoulders throughout the series. The Rangers have taken the Habs’ best metaphorical — and sometimes, literal — punches and soldiered on, and how about the moxie shown by Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg?

This has been a tough series, a physical series, one in which Lundqvist has been hit as often as Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire. The King — who described what he felt when Mika Zibanejad won Game 5 in overtime as “a rush — the rush you look for that’s why you play” — has not a moment of peace in this series in which he is stringing together dozens of moments through which he has reminded the hockey world of who is he and what he can do, and oh, at age 35.

But it is not over. The Rangers know that. Lundqvist knows that. He’s been there before. So he prepares.

“It has been so intense,” he said. “I have to get away from hockey for a day to save some energy. So I won’t think about the next one until gameday.

“That’s when I’ll get ready.”



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