For nearly 70 minutes on Friday night, New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist hung in, time and again bailing out a Rangers team hoping to steal a win at Verizon Center and head home with a chance to take the series.
When Alex Ovechkin stood on the doorstep early in the third period with two solid swings at the puck, Lundqvist slid over in the nick of time to block both and preserve the tie. The league’s top regular season scorer put nine attempts on net and couldn’t solve the Vezina finalist.
Lundqvist dragged the Rangers into overtime and then made seven more stops in the extra period before Mike Ribeiro finally shoved in a rebound and sent the red-clad faithful away happy with a 2-1 Capitals victory. In the dressing room after his 33-save performance that wasn’t quite good enough, Lundqvist did little to hide his disappointment as he peeled off his equipment.
“There’s not really much you can do about it,” Lundqvist said. “You just wish we could get a better bounce.”
It’s no surprise Lundqvist has been the best player on the ice for the Rangers through most of the series. New York has built its identity around its backstop.
But Washington has, so far, managed to keep Lundqvist from taking over the series.
The Swede kept the Capitals off the board for 68 minutes last Saturday with 37 saves before Mike Green’s game-winner sent the Capitals to New York with a 2-0 series lead.
After the Rangers finally backed him with offense in back-to-back home victories to even the series, Lundqvist once again shouldered the load in Game 5, and the Capitals found a way to beat him.
“He’s a great goalie, but he is human, at the same time,” said Capitals winger Joel Ward, whose goal got the Capitals on the board in Friday’s second period. “You just have to keep firing away, and hopefully get one past him.”
Lundqvist came through with his best work on Friday after Ward’s power-play blast tied the score 7 minutes 44 seconds into the second period.
The Capitals outshot the Rangers 27-15 after the first period, and Lundqvist responded with stop after stop, particularly bedeviling Ovechkin, who had managed four total shots in the previous two games combined.
“He’s just playing his game,” Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. “He’s keeping us in games, and when we’re struggling at our end, he’s right there for us.”
Lundqvist has helped the Rangers through this situation before. Last year, the team overcame a 3-2 first-round playoff series deficit against Ottawa before then knocking out Washington in seven games.
Sullen afterward, Lundqvist said he’ll head back to Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers have won eight straight games, with a clear mind.
“Frustrating and disappointing, but it’s not over,” Lundqvist said. “We have to regroup. It’s going to be a tough couple hours and then you just forget about it.”