Henrik Lundqvist must step up and be the best player in the final

Lundqvist

EN ROUTE TO NEW YORK – A couple of things are becoming painfully clear at this point in the Stanley Cup final. One of them is that referee Dan O’Halloran needs to have his eyes examined, because he either can’t see an obvious case of goaltender interference that is right there in front of him or he can’t make out the print that deals with Rule 69.1 in the NHL rulebook

Another is that the New York Rangers are going to have to begin to show some backbone if they’re going to even have a chance of getting back into this series. Any team that blows three two-goal leads over the course of two games has no business blaming a referee for its ills. The non-call on the Dwight King goal that narrowed the gap to 4-3 in the third period of Game 2 was a terrible mistake by the officiating staff, but teams that are serious about winning Stanley Cups are able to regroup quickly enough to put those setbacks behind them and continue with the task at hand.

You could just see the Rangers sag after the King goal. What was worse was the player many believe is the best goaltender in the world looked as though he allowed that goal to get to him. The King goal came early in a period in which the Rangers were outshot 12-7 and once again, could not handle the Kings big forwards in front of their net.

And when the Kings most needed a save from their goaltender, they didn’t get it. At the other end of the ice, Jonathan Quick was doing his best impression of Grant Fuhr’s bend-but-don’t-break modus operandi. Quick allowed four goals in less than 35 minutes, then shut the Rangers down for the next 55-plus minutes. Once he got into a zone, you just got the feeling that he simply was not going to allow another goal.

Lundqvist, on the other hand, could not deliver the same kind of goaltending. This is not a complete indictment of the man they call Hank, but it’s clear the Rangers are going to need the kind of superhuman, otherworldly goaltending teams sometimes require in the playoffs if they’re going to beat this Kings team. And Lundqvist is not providing that at the moment. It wasn’t Lundqvist’s fault that Dan Girardi coughed up the puck in overtime in Game 1 or that O’Halloran didn’t make what seemed to be an obvious call, he’s also given up eight goals in two games. There is no sugar-coating or overlooking that.

It’s not that he hasn’t been as good as Quick has. In fact, he’s been better overall. After two games, both goaltenders have identical .906 save percentages, which would have been considered Hall of Fame numbers 25 years ago, but are rather pedestrian numbers for the playoffs. But there are a couple of differences between Quick and Lundqvist, aside from the fact that they couldn’t be more stylistically different on and off the ice. (Off the ice, Lundqvist always looks as though he just walked off a GQ photo shoot. Quick almost always looks like he just rolled out of a ditch coming off a three-day bender.)

The first difference has to do with circumstance. Quick plays for a team where he just has to be good, not great. Somewhere along the line, the Kings have become an offensive juggernaut and don’t need to rely on their goaltending nearly as much as they did two years ago with Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy and posted a .946 save percentage in the playoffs. The other is, as previously mentioned, Quick has been a much better situational goaltender than Lundqvist in this series.

When the Rangers traded their captain Ryan Callahan to get Martin St-Louis from Tampa Bay, Lundqvist became their de facto captain. He cannot wear the ‘C’, but he must begin to play like a legendary leader. The time for, “Gee, Hank played real well and we still lost,” has to end right now for the Rangers to get back into this series.

Yes, Lundqvist and the Rangers got a raw deal from O’Halloran and Wes McCauley in Game 2. But the officials were not responsible for the Rangers inexplicably not continuing to push the pace when they blew Game 1 and for their inability to lock down two two-goal leads in Game 2. Those ones are on the Rangers, their coaching staff and their superstar goaltender.

It’s time for Lundqvist to step up and be the better goaltender in this series. It’s time for him to do what Quick has done in spurts for a full 60 minutes, or more if necessary. And if that doesn’t happen starting tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, this could be a short series. Long games, but a short series.