Affable big man Brian Boyle has become the breakout star of this Rangers-Senators series – one teammate even joked he should charge money to the staggering assembly of reporters that now engulf his stall each day – but goaltender Henrik Lundqvist still holds court as King.
Following Monday’s 39-save effort to blank Ottawa in Game 3, the Senators still seemed baffled that they could not get one puck past the stingy Swede.
“He’s a really good goaltender. We have a lot of respect for him,” said Senators top center Jason Spezza. “We knew there would be games in the series he’d steal. We just have to be persistent...eventually, we’re going to get by him and rolling a little bit.”
Both Spezza and Milan Michalek, who combined for 69 goals in the regular season, have been limited to only one assist apiece through the first three games this season. Shutdown pair Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh deserve a ton of credit, as does the Rangers’ efficient penalty kill, but above all else, Lundqvist has been the difference in the series.
The Rangers have had a chance to marvel at his heroics before and they are relishing the opportunity to do so again in the post-season.
“He’s played that way all year,” said captain Ryan Callahan. “He’s been great for us. He’s one of the main reasons we’ve had such a good year and he’s the backbone of this team.”
The 30-year-old Vezina front-runner has surrendered only five goals on 103 shots in three games against Ottawa in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals – good for a staggering .951 save percentage – and earned his ninth shutout of the season with Monday’s win that gave the Rangers a 2-1 series lead.
Entering Game 3, Lundqvist was still reeling from the team’s overtime loss Saturday night. He said he used it as motivation to stone the Sens in Monday’s match. Clearly, it worked.
"It was frustrating to lose that one and let that slip away,” he said. “In the end, it’s about winning. It was important for us to come in here last night and bounce back. It felt really good the way we responded.”
While Lundqvist feels gratified with Monday's outcome, Ottawa must be feeling uneasy. Weakened without captain Daniel Alfredsson, who seems unlikely to play Wednesday after suffering a setback in his recovery from Saturday's concussion, the Senators have seen their top offensive threats thwarted by Lundqvist's stellar play. Monday night, the chances were there -- they outshot the Rangers 39-23 -- but no one could finish.
If Lundqvist proves to be the game-changer in the series, they need to figure him out. And soon.
"He's one of the best in the league, which is part of the reason we're trying to get so many pucks at him," said Senators forward Kyle Turris, who was denied at the door step by Lundqvist with less than a minute remaining Monday. "Sooner or later, hopefully, they'll start bouncing."