New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist skated off the ice with his head down and slammed his stick on the sideboards. Back in the locker room, he fielded questions from reporters after the game and answered them in an almost-inaudibly low tone.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner had every right to be frustrated and dejected, holding the Rangers in Game 5 until Washington Capitals forward Mike Ribeiro’s overtime winner gave the Caps a 2-1 win at Verizon Center on Friday.
After Brian Boyle got the scoring started by putting the Rangers up 1-0, 53 seconds into the game, their offense was nonexistent, not mustering up too many quality-scoring chances. As a result, they relied heavily on Lundqvist (33 saves) to keep them in the game and hopefully give the offense time to score the goal that was needed.
The Capitals knotted the game 1-1 on the power play in the second period, when Joel Ward cashed in on an ill-advised retaliation penalty by Boyle. From there, Lundqvist was under siege for much of the third period as the Rangers were outshot 13-4. The Rangers struggled to get the puck out of their defensive zone in the third, as the Capitals sustained pressure and peppered Lundqvist while the Rangers forecheck went missing, forcing him to make high-quality saves. He made a remarkable kick save to rob Mathieu Perault early in the period; he stopped Alex Ovechkin, who led the Capitals with nine shots on goal, on a one-timer after that.
However, in a series that has come down to inches, Lundqvist just could not adjust fast enough off a blocked shot to stop Ribeiro’s rebound goal at 9:24 of OT, which has shoved the Rangers backs against the wall.
Washington now leads the series 3-2 with a chance to send the Rangers home early on Sunday in Game 6 in New York.
The Rangers have been in a do-or-die situation before — trailing the Senators 3-2 in last year’s first-round series heading into Game 6 in Ottawa — and they forced a Game 7, which they eventually won to take on the Capitals in the second round.
They’ll have to do it again Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and it won’t happen without at least another stellar performance from their best player, the man between the pipes.