The Montreal Canadiens gave the New York Rangers quite a shot to the mouth Tuesday night, posting a 7-4 victory and clawing back into the series. They’re still down 3-2, but such a resounding victory showed they won’t be going down without a fight.
Even more surprising is the fact that their victory involved chasing one of the league’s top goalies. After hanging four goals on Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist halfway through the night, Montreal sent him to the showers early. It was an evening which has many New York fans more than a little uneasy coming into Game 6 tonight.
Looking at Lundqvist’s recent history in this position, said supporters might have even more reason to worry.
When Lundqvist has his back against the wall, and the Rangers are facing elimination, he’s known to step up his game to another level. He’s 11-6 in that scenario, with a .944 save percentage. His last five Game 7s are all victories.
However, when New York can advance and isn’t facing the threat of elimination, it’s an entirely different situation. The last five times he played under this circumstance, he’s posted a putrid .808 save percentage, along with an alarming 5.33 GAA. Even worse, he was pulled in four out of those five games.
So, for some reason, Lundqvist can be an effective and reliable goalie when his team’s playoff life is on the line, but he’s a sieve when the Rangers are in the driver’s seat.
Why? Why does one of the best goalies on the planet crumble so miserably when he’s in an ideal situation? What is it that makes Lundqvist most effective when any mistake can immediately send his team home?
I mean, sure, it’s very comforting to know he can play well when his back is against the wall. But does this supersede the fact that the poor play he shows when his team is in control of a series usually results in the Rangers facing do-or-die circumstances in the first place?
I’m going to assume the answer is no. You want to have a goalie who can stand tall and help you avoid any unnecessary drama which comes from giving your opponent life. And yet, recent history shows this is not what New York has between the pipes.
They better pray Lundqvist can buck this trend tonight. The Canadiens already have one series comeback on their resume from this postseason, so it’s not out of the question to think they can’t pull it off again. And they come into Game 6 with Lundqvist’s history telling them they could very well send this series back to Montreal.
And if this happens, don’t expect Rangers fans to brag about their goalie’s solid stat line in elimination games. Game 7 at the Bell Centre? After being up 3-1 in the series?
It’s a situation you’d like to think Lundqvist wants no part of, and tonight we’ll see if his play reflects this. If not, the panic button is going to be slammed with full force in New York.