Is there a goalie in the NHL with a better knack for coming up small in a big moment than New York Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist? New York has a goalie that is consistently one of the best in the NHL through the regular season. His presence looms over a playoff series because you know that if he gets locked in, he can personally carry his team. And yet it never happens. Last night was the latest case in point.
New York was trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in games. Lundqvist was immediately beaten by Evgeni Malkin for a goal less than three minutes in. After the Rangers tied it back up, Lundqvist was beaten for a shorthanded goal, where he was unable to cover the puck as it stood just a couple feet from him and was swept into the net.
You can come up with a reasonable excuse on either of the first two goals. Malkin made a great shot, and Lundqvist had lost his balance after the initial thrust on Pittsburgh’s shorthanded breakaway—and it’s certainly fair to ask New York’s power play unit how Pittsburgh managed to get an odd-man rush to begin with.
But there’s no excusing what took place in the third period. New York’s Matts Zuccarello had just scored on a beautiful move to pull the Rangers to within 3-2. There was about seven minutes to play, Madison Square Garden was rocking and the fans had renewed hope.
Within two minutes of game time, the hope was snuffed out. Chris Kunitz beat Lundqvist on a simple shot that a professional goalie—never mind one of the best in the NHL—needs to stop in his sleep. It was from close-in, and Kunitz is a talented offensive player. But there was no screener to block the goalie’s view and Kunitz didn’t have any room to put a move on. It was a simple shot off a pass and it found the back of the net.
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Game over, and the Rangers now need to win three in a row.
You could overlook this if it were one bad night, but this has become a pattern for Lundqvist. While his performance in the playoffs overall has been fine, he’s got a knack for coming up small at the moments when his team cries out for a “get-on-my-back-and-I’ll-carry-you” kind of moment.
Lundqvist was outplayed by New Jersey Devils’ legend Martin Brodeur in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, the best chance Lundqvist has had to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. He was outplayed by Boston Bruins up-and-comer Tuuka Raask in the second round last year.
The New York goalie had an exceptional showing in last year’s first-round win over the Washington Capitals, which I suppose proves that he’s not as big a playoff head case as Alex Ovechkin, but I don’t think anyone considers that something to hang your hat on.
What the New York Rangers need to hang their hat on is not just decent goaltending, but exceptional goaltending. Right now, Lundqvist is the hockey version of Alex Rodriguez minus the PEDs—a great talent, one you can’t deny wanting on your team, one that opposing fans are aware can take over—but who manages to break your heart.