After falling in the first two games on home ice, as well as losing goalie Carey Price for the series, it certainly looked like Montreal was on life support. Then, a surprising performance from backup Dustin Tokarski in Game 3 helped the Canadiens steal a win. However, any momentum from this victory was thwarted when Martin St. Louis potted an overtime winner in Game 4, giving the Rangers a 3-1 series lead.
It certainly appeared Montreal was on borrowed time yet again. And, yet again, the Canadiens found a way to rally. This time, however, it was done so thanks to a very poor performance from one of the best goalies in the world.
Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist came into this conference finals series as a leading Conn Smythe candidate. After New York fell into a 3-1 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semifinals, Lundqvist locked down the crease, allowing just one goal per game and helping the Rangers rally for three straight wins and a series victory. He carried this over into the first two games against Montreal, only letting by three goals despite facing 63 shots. With Lundqvist in the zone, many believed the Rangers were well on their way to the Cup Finals.
Last night may have given those same believers a lot of concern. In easily his shakiest performance in quite some time, Lundqvist allowed four goals in just under half an hour of ice time. After Montreal took a 4-1 lead, the Swedish goaltender was yanked. Though New York quickly tied the game, the see-saw battle ended up tipping the Canadiens’ way as they pulled off a 7-4 rout.
Now, with the series heading back to Manhattan, one of the main reasons the Rangers have made it this far suddenly looks more than human. Can Lundqvist bounce back after such a shockingly bad showing last night?
For one thing, the Canadiens certainly feel like Lundqvist isn’t deserving of his hype during this series. Rene Bourque, after scoring a hat trick last night, said New York’s goalie hasn’t really done better than Tokarski.
“Everybody talks about how (Lundqvist’s) a great goalie. Has he been better than Ticker (Tokarski) this series? I don’t think so,” Bourque said.
Montreal carrying a belief that one of the best goalies in the NHL isn’t playing any better than a rookie with just 14 games of experience certainly makes it seem like they’re not afraid of Lundqvist at all. It may not have been a direct, bulletin-board material shot at the Rangers goalie, but still, it’s proof that he hasn’t done enough as of late to make his opponent feel like it’ll take a herculean effort to beat him.
We know Lundqvist is an incredibly talented player, one capable of quickly moving past a rough night in net. One poor performance is not something to panic about. He’ll come back tomorrow with the Madison Square Garden faithful behind him and look to show the Canadiens he’s miles ahead of their rookie netminder.
However, while there’s no need for Rangers fans to freak out today, things could change in a hurry if Lundqvist’s struggles carry over to Game 6. Sure, New York is still one game away from sending Montreal home, but if they lose tomorrow night, it’s Game 7 in one of the toughest arenas in the league. Because of this, expect the aforementioned MSG crowd to get uneasy right away if Lundqvist lets up the opening goal.
For Lundqvist, it’s simple: hold strong tomorrow night, and everything about Game 5 is forgotten instantly. If he looks as bad as he did last night, though, the line of doubters is going to wrap around the corner and back.