The second round of the playoffs are nearing its end. Whoever wins this round will be halfway to the post-season race for the Stanley Cup. In each of the four playoff series, one team is now up three games to two. Unfortunately, for the Rangers the team that has won the three games in their series is not them. The Ottawa/New York series has been unique, both in the fact that the series was tied two games apiece before last night’s game (all three others were 3-1), and because, each team has only won in their home barn. Last night was a big test, because the Rangers were on a roll (winning back-to-back 4-1 rollovers of the Sens), and because a game seven, if it gets to that, will be played in Ottawa.
Although New York has been in every one of the five games played against Ottawa (and, in fact, has led at some point in each of the first five games), last night’s 5-4 OT loss proved that Ottawa can come back from life-support. If New York is not careful, Ryan McDonagh and company may be on the first tee by next weekend. That’s not to say that the team as a whole played terribly last night; it did not. But, the Rangers continue to lose their oomph as the game goes on, and last night, Henrik Lundqvist did not make the needed game-saving goals to ensure the win.
You may think that the goalie should not have to make those late game-saving goals (if the team in front of you is good enough, the puck never gets there), but that is completely untrue. If you have watched enough close games in the regular season, you will know that even among teams at the bottom of the standings have surges in the last minutes if down by just one goal. Their netminder is pulled and the resulting six on five is very dangerous. When a team that is good enough to get into the second round of the playoffs pulls their netminder, look out.
And just in case you still think that it is a fluke that Ottawa is in this position, you are totally wrong. The Senators may not have the offensive weapons that some other good teams in the league (eg, the Rangers) have, but they play within themselves, in an excellent system devised by an outstanding coaching staff. So, when the Sens pulled its netminder in the last two minutes of play, it was almost guaranteed that the puck will wind up around Henrik Lundqvist’s net. And that Lundqvist would be called upon to make at least one great last save. Although Henrik was a bit unsteady through parts of the regular season, he has been mostly outstanding through the first four games of the second round. At times, he has looked like the future Hall of Fame goalie he is. But last night, for whatever reason, Lundqvist just did not make the required save. You could say that Marc Staal fell into him on that tying goal, but Henrik still had the chance to make the play. And he did not. Then, on the overtime game winner by Kyle Turris–let’s just say that it was not one of “The King’s” highlight moments.
Without Lundqvist at his best or near best, the Rangers cannot win this series. No, Ottawa is not as talented a team as New York, but it is a crafty, well-built, and excellently coached team. The Sens showed during the regular season, that you need just enough much talent to win, but what you really need is great defense, grit, and the critical save to make it through to the next round. We all know that the Rangers defense is not the best, but they played well enough last night to win. In the end, it was Lundqvist–he just did not make the saves that he had to–pure and simple.
If New York is going to defeat Ottawa in this series, Lundqvist will have to make some critical saves in the last two games. I hate to say this, but, for the first time since Henrik took over between the Rangers’ pipes in 2005, there are questions in my mind as to whether he will.
Stay tuned. On Tuesday, the series moves back to Madison Square Garden.