Henrik Lundqvist's Game 5 performance wasn't his best of the post-season, but there's no one the Rangers would rather rely on heading into a crucial Game 6.
Over the course of his 12-year career, Henrik Lundqvist has won 30 games in every single full season. He’s won the Vezina Trophy, finished as a finalist five times and has led the league in shutouts twice during his tenure in New York. He’s turned aside mountains of rubber in order to earn his spot in the top 10 of the NHL’s all-time wins list, and his 61 post-season wins put him only a handful of victories outside the top 10 playoff wins, as well. So, given everything he’s done for the Rangers, it almost goes without saying that he’s been the backbone on Broadway almost since the day he set foot inside the blue paint at Madison Square Garden.
And despite a tough Game 5 performance, Lundqvist is the biggest reason why the Rangers should have hope as they head into a crucial Game 6.
While Lundqvist has taken some heat for his performance in the second-round meeting with the Ottawa Senators — having allowed 13 goals in three losses hasn’t helped — the truth is there may not be another goalie in the league right now that New York would rather rely on. Yes, he’s posted a mere .909 save percentage in five games against the Senators, but he’s managed a .930 mark throughout the entirety of the playoffs. He dominated the Montreal Canadiens’ offense, allowing just 11 goals in six games, and in the games he’s gotten some support from the Rangers’ rearguards, he’s done the same to the Senators. In New York’s two wins, Lundqvist has posted a marvellous .960 SP, turning aside 48 of 50 shots.
And even if you include the losses, Lundqvist has been one of the league’s best 5-on-5 goaltenders throughout the post-season. Pekka Rinne is earning himself headlines in Nashville with his performance for the Predators, but Lundqvist has been the second-best netminder of those still remaining in the post-season, possessing a .942 SP at 5-on-5 through 11 games. When measured strictly on his second-round performance, there’s only a slim margin separating Lundqvist, who ranks third with a .924 SP, from the top second-round netminders Rinne and Cam Talbot.
When it comes to winning the goaltending duel, Lundqvist has been more than accomplishing that, too. Staring at the ‘King’ from the other end of the ice has been Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, and he’s been far from superb against the Rangers. In five games, he has a .896 SP at 5-on-5, a mark of .898 at all strengths and has been beaten from long range three times on just 55 low-quality shots against. New York doesn’t just need Lundqvist to outplay Anderson, though. He’s done that all series and the Rangers still find themselves in this hole. What the Blueshirts really need is a peak-Lundqvist performance, especially with Anderson’s history.
Even without looking at box scores or point totals, it’s easy surmise that the Rangers’ offense has been hot through five games given Anderson’s less-than-spectacular numbers. But Anderson has made a name throughout his career by having some standout games in the post-season. There was the 51-save win over the San Jose Sharks, 41-save shutout against the Islanders, near twin 48- and 49-save victories during the 2013 post-season and a 45-save victory against Montreal in the 2015 playoffs. He hasn’t yet had that first-star performance in this post-season, and though the New York offense is shooting out the lights, Anderson’s world-beating outing could come at the drop of a hat. If that’s the case, Lundqvist needs to be equally lights out.
The good news is that Lundqvist has been an excellent crunch-time netminder, which likely comes as no surprise to anyone who’s watched him play over the better part of the past decade. That’s been particularly true in recent seasons. Over the past four campaigns, the Rangers have moved on to the second round three times, and once the series starts entering do-or-die territory — Game 4 and beyond — Lundqvist has been nothing short of outstanding. Including this season’s series against the Senators, Lundqvist has a 7-3 record from Game 4 onwards, .940 SP and has allowed only 20 goals on 332 shots.
Lundqvist can only do so much, though, and while there’s little doubt he can perform like the brick wall the Rangers need him to be, it’ll be up to the Rangers’ offense to ensure they give him some goal support. That means seeing to it that Anderson’s big game doesn’t come on their watch. Before Game 5’s loss to the Senators in which the Rangers scored four times, Lundqvist’s losses that late in a series over the past four years had come in games where he was given one or two goals in support. And the last thing New York can afford is to waste a dominant Lundqvist performance with a substandard offensive one.
It’s of utmost importance the Rangers get out of this hole, too. New York is in an incredibly difficult division with a roster that has an aging defense, no true-blue offensive stars and very little in the way of top prospects coming their way. A panel of scouts rated the Rangers’ prospect group second-last in THN’s Future Watch 2017. There could be some tough years down the road, and the next season or two may be the last great ones for Lundqvist and the last chance the Rangers have to win with him in goal.
And that means Tuesday night is do-or-die for New York, with some added stakes. A loss to the Senators would send the Blueshirts packing, meaning another promising season, which came with a very favorable playoff draw, will have been washed away. It would also mean another early summer with no promises this team can claw its way back to this spot. But it’s hard to hate New York’s chances with Lundqvist in goal. He has carried this Rangers squad before, and there’s no reason to doubt his ability to do it once again.
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