By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 27, 2009
NEW YORK, April 26 -- By the third period Sunday afternoon, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was once again out of the game, chased to the bench by Washington's offensive onslaught that produced five goals in 40 minutes. And the reaction from the Capitals' bench to Lundqvist's removal?
"I didn't even notice he got changed there," defenseman Mike Green said.
That Lundqvist could anonymously slink to the bench might be the clearest measure of how suddenly this series has somersaulted. Through four games, he was the unquestioned star, limiting Alex Ovechkin to one goal and causing Washington's stars to grumble about losing to a one-man show. That led to a flurry of questions about whether the Swede had burrowed into the Capitals' heads, whether he was in an unbeatable zone that could carry New York into the second round.
Two benchings and two losses later, the Rangers entered a solemn postgame dressing room and quietly preached loyalty to their goalie, who has allowed nine goals in the last 34 shots he's faced.
"Hank is the best goalie in the league," Rangers defenseman Paul Mara said. "If you ask the other 29 teams, or the other 15 teams in the playoffs, if they want Hank on their team, they would say yes, immediately."
Perhaps, but the Capitals are clearly no longer fazed by a man who had allowed just eight goals in the first 149 shots he faced during this series. For a second straight game, he allowed a soft goal from a bad angle taken by an offensively limited player --Matt Bradley in Game 5, Milan Jurcina in Game 6. For a second straight game, he failed to stymie Ovechkin with the stops that had frustrated Washington's star earlier in this series.
"He can't play every time like a god; you know, he can't save the game all the time," Ovechkin said. "We make some traffic in front of the net, and when we score goals we feel pretty good. And when we play our game, we play simple, we play hard, nobody can stop us."
"Obviously when things weren't going well for us, maybe he was in our head a little bit," Green added. "But as long as you stayed strong, there was gonna be a time where they were gonna start going in."
Lundqvist -- who hadn't allowed nine goals in back-to-back games since December -- said the same thing as many of his teammates: that two ugly losses and two benchings won't matter if the Rangers can win on Tuesday.
"It is not a fun feeling to sit there [on the bench], knowing that, obviously, you want to be on the ice," the goalie said. "It is hockey. It happens. You just have to deal with it. I have to look over the game and see what I can do better."
Jim Schoenfeld, who coached the Rangers on Sunday, agreed that Lundqvist "has to be better, absolutely," for New York to rebound.
"But knowing Henrik the way I know him, I don't think our concern will last past the first period in Washington," Schoenfeld said. "He always comes back off of poor performances. We thought he would today. It's rare that he has three poor performances in a row."