Despite Effort, Lundqvist and Rangers Go Home

As collapses go, this wasn’t the Yankees of 2004. Nor was it the Mets of the last two seasons. But it stings just the same.

After commanding the Washington Capitals in their series, 3-1, just five days ago, the Rangers now go home early after Sergei Fedorov scored late in the third to give the Caps a 2-1 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

“[Fedorov] came down the wing and beat me with a good shot,” said Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who rebounded from two awful games . “It’s tough when you’re that close. I think we were trying harder than they were for the first two periods.”

Actually the whole team rebounded and played a very spirited first two periods. The Rangers had their chances against Simeon Varlamov, especially in the beginning of the game, but could only muster one goal.

That came at 5:35 of the first after Sean Avery, who played extremely well, fought for the puck in the corner and managed a off-angle pass to Nik Antropov, who fed it out to Brandon Dubinsky. Varlamov was able to poke check the shot, but Antropov came in and knocked it home.

That was it for the Ranger offense, which controlled the puck throughout the game, but gave in during the third when Washington pushed the Blueshirts to the edge.

“For most of the game I thought we did a really job in keeping the puck, but we couldn’t develop enough scoring chances,” he said. “In the third period, they turned it up a notch, we ended up backing up a bit, but it was still a game to be had. It was who makes the next big play. They did, we didn’t.”

And didn’t get the scoring chances they needed, thanks to Varlamov, and despite outshooting the Capitals 8-2 in the first, the Rangers went into the dressing room tied at 1, thanks to a Alexander Semin goal at 15:34, which was deflected by Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi, changing the direction on Lundqvist.

Even with the goals, Lundqvist played great, making some spectacular saves, like one Vikor Kozlov early in the second, and he survived the onslaught on shots in the third, until Fedorov was able to nail it shut at with 4:59 left.

“I didn’t think too much about it,” said Fedorov to reporters. “Just entering the zone I wanted to make sure the puck went deep. The D gave me some room, so I stopped and chose to shoot. I knew the D was giving me short side. Henrik went down and I shot it top shelf short side. It’s pretty standard for what we practice.

“It was a big deal for us because we really wanted to win and not experience last year.”

Now the Rangers go searching for answers in the offseason. Players like Antropov, Derek Morris, and Paul Mara probably have played their last games for the Blueshirts, and the team will also make some other changes as Tortorella will revamp the club in his image for the 2009-10 season.

Notes: This is the first time the Rangers blew a 3-1 lead. They were 11-0 before this series….They are still winless in Game 7s on the road, now 0-5….With the Devils losing, the Capitals now get the dream matchup of the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Bruins will play the Hurricanes.

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