New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Henrik Lundqvist said he couldn't wait to get back on the ice.
Turns out he could, but for a good reason.
Lundqvist, cleared this week to resume practicing with the New York Rangers for the first time in six weeks, was absent from Friday's practice because his wife Therese was about to deliver the couple's second child. Because the Rangers play the next two days and are off Monday, Lundqvist's new schedule has him joining the Rangers for a morning skate before Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings, then taking part in a full practice Wednesday.
Lundqvist hasn't played since Feb. 2 because of a blood vessel in his neck that was damaged when he was hit by a shot.
It's not yet clear how soon after that Lundqvist will be ready to play in a game. The Rangers play in Ottawa next Thursday and in Boston two days later, but a better guess might be that Lundqvist returns for a March 29 home game against the Washington Capitals.
Coming back against the Caps would give Lundqvist as many as eight regular season games to prepare for the playoffs.
Lundqvist's teammates understand how badly he wants to play, but also why he wasn't there Friday.
"He was smiling ear to ear the other day [after the doctors cleared him to practice]," defenseman Marc Staal said. "I'm sure he'll have an even bigger smile on his face [after the baby is born]."
The Rangers flew to Raleigh after Friday's practice, and they'll play the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, before returning home to face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Coach Alain Vigneault said Cam Talbot will play against Carolina. While the coach wouldn't commit to it, it's almost certain Talbot will also play against the Ducks, who are tied with Montreal for the NHL lead with 97 points. The Rangers, who have played three fewer games, have 95 points.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- When Keith Yandle and his Arizona Coyotes teammates prepared to face the New York Rangers in mid-February, they knew the Rangers would be without Henrik Lundqvist. They didn't know much about Cam Talbot, who was filling in for the Rangers in goal.
They found out.
"Some of the saves he made, I thought Lundqvist was playing," Yandle said. "He looks like he's been in the league for 15 years."
A month later, Yandle is a Ranger and he's playing in front of Talbot, instead of trying to beat him. The rest of the story remains the same.
Talbot is playing more like Lundqvist than a backup. And the Rangers, more than just surviving a serious injury to their franchise goalie, have thrived in his absence.
The Rangers will still be thrilled to get Lundqvist back, a prospect that became all the more real and all the more immediate with Tuesday's announcement that doctors have cleared Lundqvist to practice with the team. Lundqvist still gives the Rangers their best chance at success in the playoffs, and the team's hope now is that the six weeks he has missed with a vascular injury in his neck can be a positive going forward.
"With this extended rest period, if that's what you want to call it, I think he'll be fresh, physically and mentally, and he'll be ready for a real strong push," coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday.
When Lundqvist last played, the Rangers were 29-15-4, in third place in the Metropolitan Division and with one eye still on the teams behind them. While Vigneault said he tried not to look long-term, there had to be some concern that when Lundqvist returned, the Rangers would still be fighting to lock up a spot in the playoffs.
Instead, Lundqvist rejoins a team comfortably in the tournament, with the best record in the league.
Stunningly, the Rangers have gone 15-2-3 in the 20 games since Lundqvist last played. They've allowed just 47 goals in that span, and just six in their past seven games combined, heading into Wednesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden.
They've played as if the Lundqvist injury didn't matter, just as they've rolled on despite an injury to defenseman Kevin Klein and expect to do the same with forward Martin St. Louis out for the next 10-14 days.
"That's what good teams do," defenseman Dan Boyle said.
That's what good teams expect to do, but we've all seen teams that have faded because of key injuries, especially injuries to a player as important as Lundqvist at a position as important as goalie.
The Rangers haven't, which is a credit to them as a team, but also to Talbot, who got the opportunity but also the responsibility after Lundqvist was hurt when a shot by Carolina's Brad Malone hit him in the throat.
Talbot had played well as a backup (three shutouts), but he had played sparingly (nine starts in the Rangers' first 48 games). He'd impressed his teammates in those games and also in his off-ice work, where he seemed to take a cue from the workaholic Lundqvist.
"I've always felt that guys had confidence in Cam and played real hard for him," Vigneault said. "As a goaltender, having players like you and want to play hard for you, want to block those extra shots, that's a big thing.
"Both Cam and Hank have that."
There's no doubt the Rangers were beginning to find themselves as a team before Lundqvist was hurt, and no doubt that great team play -- rather than just a great backup goalie -- has been the biggest reason for their recent success. But it's also true that when they've needed Talbot to save them from a poor effort (such as Sunday against Florida), Talbot has done that.
"He's been amazing," said Yandle, who joined the Rangers in a March 1 trade. "There's times you get stuck in your own end, and you need big saves. It just seems that he's there when needed."
Talbot has done so well that there's talk the Rangers could trade him this summer to a team in need of a No. 1 goalie. The Rangers have done so well in the absence of Lundqvist, who Vigneault has referred to as their best player, that getting past other injuries has to seem less challenging.
"I've always felt with this group of players, it's about the group," Vigneault said. "It's not about one guy. We play a team game, a smart game with and without the puck, and that has permitted us to play well with the adversity that has gone on."
Adversity can lead to opportunities. It has for Talbot, and perhaps it can with the latest injury to St. Louis. With a need to replace St. Louis in the lineup, Vigneault took the chance to shake up his first two lines, moving top scorer Rick Nash to a line with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, where he had some success last season. Kevin Hayes takes Nash's spot on the line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, with James Sheppard becoming the center on the third line with J.T. Miller and Carl Hagelin.
"We'll see how it works," Vigneault said.
For the Rangers right now, everything seems to work.
They put Cam Talbot in for Henrik Lundqvist, and Talbot looked like the King. They lost their best player for a month and a half, and they played better than they had when he was healthy.
None of that guarantees them the run to the Stanley Cup that they covet, but you've got to like their chances a lot better than you did two months back.
"If a team's expecting to play hockey in June, they've got to play the right way before that," Vigneault said.
The Rangers have done exactly that, with or without Henrik Lundqvist.
“I feel like there’s no regrets,” Lundqvist said Monday. “I feel like I prepared the right way and played the way I wanted to. You can always look back and say, ‘I should’ve done this [differently] in different situations.’ But overall I feel like I just need some time to reflect and I’m gonna be happy with this season.”
Lundqvist advanced to the finals for the first time in his nine-year career. He was happy about that. He just wasn’t happy to lose.
The 32-year-old, after all, has already accomplished so much. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 and is the only goaltender in NHL history to record at least 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons. He holds the Rangers’ franchise records for regular-season (309) and playoff wins (43). He even captured a gold medal for Sweden in 2006. Still, his first Stanley Cup title has eluded him so far.
Not that it’s Lundqvist’s fault or anything. He got off to a really poor start in 2013-14. In December, he made 10 starts, posting a 3.08 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage. But then the calendar turned, and everything changed. Lundqvist went from playing ordinary hockey to playing extraordinary hockey once again.
He closed out the regular season by going 21-9-3. He also backstopped Sweden to a silver medal at the Olympics in Sochi.
In the playoffs, Lundqvist turned it up another notch. He won a pair of Game 7s. In Pittsburgh, Lundqvist had arguably his finest game as a Ranger, making 35 saves -- 13 of them in the third period -- to lead his team to the Eastern Conference finals. Then, in Game 6 against Montreal at Madison Square Garden, he made arguably the finest save of his career, twirling, dropping his stick and stoning Thomas Vanek with his blocker in the second period.
Lundqvist wound up allowing 15 goals during the finals, but his save percentage was .923. In the last two games, he allowed just four goals on 92 shots. He was truly terrific, performing valiantly in defeat.
“I really tried to challenge myself to leave everything out there,” Lundqvist said. “You learn a lot from it and you appreciate those moments, for sure, but it’s gonna be a couple weeks now where it's gonna hurt a little bit, there’s no question about it.”
Lundqvist’s seven-year, $59.5 million extension kicks in starting in 2014-15. He has proven himself as the face of the franchise. Still, he wants that title. That’s why he remains so dejected -- even now.
“You marvel at the way he plays, but you want to drive right behind him and excel at your game,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “He leads by his play, his play speaks for itself and his passion to win and his passion to get better every year is unbelievable.
“This is my fourth season with him and he continues to amaze me with what he does out there and he understands the expectations every year here that we wanna be a championship team, and he’s gonna be the reason for sure one day.”
"I have nowhere to go. No hurry now," Girardi said. "Just kept it on. No reason. I just -- just hanging onto it, I guess. Hanging onto the last moments here."
There were so many poignant moments to remember for the New York Rangers throughout what was a remarkable postseason run. So much to be proud of, yet all those fond memories were difficult to summon in the wake of the team’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals on Friday night.
But not now.
"There will be. Not tonight, but there will be," said veteran Brad Richards, the Rangers’ de facto captain. "Tonight’s not a night to reminisce, but there will be a time this summer when you look back at what an amazing run it was. Has to be amazing to get this far. Things have to come together. No one will ever know, except for us, how fun it was and how we came together. You lose three overtime games in the final. It’s hard to explain."
It was already tough for the Rangers to articulate, to put into words just how exactly they were feeling physically, mentally and emotionally after a beautifully chaotic and drama-filled double-overtime game that ended with Alec Martinez’s game winner.
Some tried to explain what it was like.
"Empty," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who had a particularly strong postseason. "Emptiness, I think."
Marc Staal, as steady as any player in that room, both on or off the ice, made no effort to conceal his anguish.
"It’s the worst feeling you can have as a hockey player," said Staal, which is not hollow hyperbole coming from a player who has suffered through a pair of frightening, career-threatening injuries in recent years.
Maybe the worst part for all of those involved is that the group will never again get a chance with the team constituted as it currently stands. Richards has likely played his last game as a Ranger, with a potential buyout looming. Rick Nash, with another disappointing postseason performance, might not be long for Broadway. The team has six impending unrestricted free agents and several key restricted free agents to get under contract as well.
It will not be the same group of players come training camp this fall.
"Who knows if we’re going to have another crack at this? We might not get another crack at this opportunity," Girardi said, almost unbelieving. "That’s why it hurts, I think, that much more."
It will also sting, for some time, for the Rangers to look back on a series that went five games but was riddled with squandered leads, missed opportunities and some odd outcomes.
The Rangers played better in the games they lost than in their sole victory in Game 4. The Kings erased leads, rallied back, showed resilience. The Rangers never even really felt like they settled into their game. They dropped the first three games and seemed shell-shocked by their position.
"It felt like we closed our eyes and opened them and we were down three-nothing [in the series]," Staal said.
But the Rangers salvaged pride in Game 4, avoiding a sweep on home ice at Madison Square Garden, and they should have left the handshake line with their heads held high as well.
They left every ounce of effort on that Staples Center ice Friday night in what was maybe the most riveting stretch of playoff hockey this spring, maybe ever. There was not a single moment to mentally adjust, no time to take a deep breath. Just end-to-end, do-or-die hockey in its purest form. It was wildly entertaining, captivating and absolutely mesmerizing.
Both teams had their chances, great chances, to end the game in each overtime period. There was Ryan McDonagh’s shot off the post and Tyler Toffoli’s crossbar shot in the first period. There was Nash’s shot directed at an open net, foiled only by a sliver of shaft of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s stick in the next. Lundqvist was superb the whole way through, denying every Grade-A chance that passed his crease for his second outing of 40 saves or more, but it was just one juicy rebound surrendered that ended up in the back of their net.
Martinez buried the chance, a play that seemed to unfold in slow motion, if only because it signaled the end to a game that many hoped would just keep going. It was that good.
Coach Alain Vigneault, talking to just a smattering of reporters with the muffled sounds of victory music lingering in the background, lauded his club for its heart.
"You go into this hoping you don’t regret anything," Vigneault said. "We put it out there. We gave our best shot, our best effort. Three games here all went to OT. What can I say?"
There was not much to say, after all. But there will be time to think and reflect.
Defenseman John Moore, finally showered and dressed in his suit, paused on his way out of the dressing room. There was a television monitor in the barren hallway, and he took a brief glance at the Kings celebrating their Stanley Cup win with friends and family on the ice.
He looked away and kept walking.
It’s too painful in the immediate aftermath, but they will remember this run -- the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years.
It was special, even in defeat.
"It’s definitely worth it. Worth every second, these two months," Richards said. "Right now, you’re just sort of speechless."
Nope, the New York Rangers salvaged some pride and eked out a win against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, avoiding a sweep and sending the series back to L.A. with their 2-1 victory.
Even though the Blueshirts were outplayed through large stretches in Wednesday’s game, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was at his very best, delivering a phenomenal 40-save performance when the Rangers needed it most.
Falling behind 2-0 for the third time this series, the Kings still dominated and outpossessed the Rangers by a wide margin in Game 4, but Lundqvist unilaterally prevented L.A. from taking the Cup home with them on their flight back to California.
Lundqvist, who was bested by Kings netminder Jonathan Quick in Game 3, made one particularly outstanding save, robbing Jeff Carter on a solo breakaway in the second period to preserve a precarious one-goal lead.
The Kings were relentless in peppering the King himself in the third period -- the Rangers did not register a single shot on goal for almost 13 minutes -- but the steady Swede wasn’t ready for the Rangers' summer to begin. Two frenzied, goal-mouth scrambles in the final minutes of the game had Rangers fans biting their nails, but Lundqvist had a little help from Derek Stepan with the puck sitting on the goal line with just more than a minute left. Stepan batted it out of the crease to stop L.A. from tying it up.
The Rangers avoided elimination and now find themselves trailing 3-1, a difficult task but far from impossible. Earlier this spring, the Rangers erased a 3-1 series deficit in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Rough series: Defenseman Dan Girardi is having a series he’d like to forget, with a few particularly costly blunders that have ended up in the Rangers’ net. The 30-year-old blueliner, the goat in the Rangers' Game 1 loss in L.A., made one glaring gaffe in the second period that gave the Kings bench new life. Girardi gave the puck away at the blue line (it was not immediately clear whether his stick broke or not) and Kings captain Dustin Brown made a beautiful move, deking backhand to forehand six times, to beat Lundqvist on a breakaway and cut the Rangers' lead in half to 2-1.
First strike: It wasn’t technically a power-play goal, but Benoit Pouliot’s expert redirection of John Moore’s shot at 7:25 gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the first period just as Willie Mitchell’s high-sticking penalty expired. Heading into Wednesday’s action, the Rangers were 1-for-14 on the man advantage after being blanked on six power-play attempts in Game 2 Monday night. Pouliot’s goal was his fifth of the postseason, and he remains one of the team’s most enticing unrestricted free agents set to hit the market July 1. Despite his propensity for taking ill-advised, offensive-zone penalties, Pouliot has had an impressive regular and postseason. Both he and defenseman Anton Stralman appear to be setting themselves up for a nice payday soon.
Shaking things up: After sustaining three straight losses to the Kings, coach Alain Vigneault opted to shake up his lineup with a few changes Wednesday night. The most notable was his decision to demote veteran center, and de facto captain, Brad Richards to fourth-line duty while using Dominic Moore on a line with Chris Kreider and Martin St. Louis. Carl Hagelin earned himself a promotion to the first line with Stepan and Rick Nash. Vigneault also elected to scratch winger Daniel Carcillo, who is now eligible to play after serving a six-game suspension incurred in the Eastern Conference finals. Though Carcillo took pregame warm-ups, gritty fourth-liner Derek Dorsett remained in the lineup instead.
For the second straight game, the Los Angeles Kings stunned the New York Rangers with a manic and frenzied come-from-behind victory, knocking off the Blueshirts with a 5-4 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead as both clubs head back to New York for Games 3 and 4. The Kings have not led in regulation at any point throughout the first two games of Stanley Cup finals, and yet they won both contests.
Kings captain Dustin Brown scored the winning goal, snapping a 4-4 draw in double overtime to end what was a wildly entertaining playoff match that spanned more than four hours and featured a little bit of everything.
The Rangers, who squandered a 2-0 lead in Game 1 Wednesday night, held another 2-0 lead Saturday, a 3-1 and 4-2 advantage as well, but they couldn’t shut the door on the feisty Kings.
The Kings refused to go quietly despite staring down a 4-2 deficit in the third period, but their third goal did not come without a bit of the controversy.
Dwight King tipped one in for a goal that ignited a plucky Kings squad intent on staging another comeback, but both defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist were livid after the play, arguing with the nearest official about King’s contact with Lundqvist in the crease -- contact that they clearly felt impeded Lundqvist’s ability to make a save.
You could sense the Rangers start to unravel from there, with the Kings buzzing, the crowd getting into it, and the (dreadful) ice tilting in L.A.’s favor. So it was no surprise when leading playoff goal-scorer, and ex-Ranger Marian Gaborik tied the game at 7:36 with his 13th playoff goal this spring.
Rangers forward Chris Kreider has a pair of Grade-A chances in a enthralling overtime period, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Fast and furious: Just as they did in Game 1, the Kings made a big push in the second period. Los Angeles cut the Rangers’ 2-0 lead in half when Jarret Stoll buried the puck into an open net with Lundqvist down on his rear after making an initial save. Martin St. Louis continued his terrific spring, one-timing a shot past Jonathan Quick on the power-play to reclaim a two-goal Rangers lead -- his seventh goal of these playoffs. But when the Kings threatened again, pulling within a goal for the second time on Willie Mitchell’s man-up marker at 14:39, the Rangers made sure to snuff out the surge quickly. The Blueshirts responded in just 11 seconds with a goal from Derick Brassard to take a 4-2 lead into the third period. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that 11-second span was the quickest between two goals scored in a Stanley Cup finals game in 67 years.
Déjà vu: Stop me if this sounds familiar: Kings look sloppy with the puck (granted, the ice also appeared horrendous) and an opportunistic Rangers squad build a 2-0 first-period lead. The Rangers got on the board with defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s hard slapper from the left point at 10:48 of the first, a goal that was created by hard forechecking pressure that forced Game 1 hero Justin Williams to turn the puck over deep in his own zone. A flubbed pass from defenseman Matt Greene later in the period resulted in a sequence of scoring chances for New York that was capped by Mats Zuccarello’s rebound goal at the right post with 7:17 remaining in the period. The Rangers took a two-goal lead in Game 1, but the Kings came charging back for a 3-2 overtime win.
Surprising scratch: Though Kings coach Darryl Sutter said veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr would “probably play” and the 34-year-old himself admitted he was ready to return to the lineup after missing more than a month with a knee injury, Regehr was scratched for the second straight game this series. Though he took part in the pregame warmups, Greene remained in the starting lineup instead. Meanwhile, John Moore returned to bolster the Rangers’ back end after serving a two-game suspension for his hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise in the Eastern Conference finals.
More than midway through the final frame, the Rangers were being outshot 14-0 by the Kings. While Lundqvist was being pelted with pucks -- he made 40 saves in the game -- his Blueshirts teammates needed almost 12 solid minutes to register their first shot on goal of the period.
In a stunning sequence of end-to-end action in the final minute of the game, he made a dazzling diving save to stop Jeff Carter on a Grade-A wraparound attempt.
He looked dialed in right then, capable of stealing this road game for the Rangers and affirming his place as the X factor for his underdog squad.
But Lundqvist could not lead the Rangers off into the L.A. sunset with a stealthy road win. Instead, in his first finals appearance, he gave up the game winner in overtime. Justin Williams might not look as good as Lundqvist in a finely tailored suit, but he was on the victors' podium following the Kings' 3-2 overtime victory, while Lundqvist was swarmed at his stall after the game and forced to recount the deciding play with his sweat-soaked gear hanging behind him in the cramped visitors locker room.
"It happens," Lundqvist said. "It's disappointing that we lose, especially when we're that close. Another really strong start to the game, I think. They started to push in the first, and obviously, in the third we gave them a lot of puck, but it felt like we kept them to the outside, for the most part. It was a pretty fun game to play. A lot of action both ends. It could have gone either way here. Unfortunately, they got the first one."
It was a game ripe for the stealing for a Rangers team doubted by many to even have a chance in this series against the big, heavy Kings. The Rangers built a 2-0 lead and dominated play for the first period. But a monster night from Kyle Clifford began when he cut that lead in half late in the first, and the Kings regained some swagger from there.
Drew Doughty, angry with himself for a costly turnover that resulted in the Rangers' first goal of the night, got redemption with a nifty move and a deke that allowed him to put one past Lundqvist and tie the score at 6:36 of the second period.
"I wasn't happy with myself," Doughty said postgame. "I had to be a better player than I was on that play. [Williams] made a great pass to me on my goal. Lot of room in front of me. Luckily, we squeezed one by Lundqvist."
From there, the ice tilted as the Rangers conceded the territorial edge to the Kings, particularly in the final frame.
"We certainly know we could play better," defenseman Marc Staal said. "We had a great start. That first period, period and a half, we were really good. We did let them get back in the game, and then that third period was kind of like a snowball effect."
Heralded as the one reason the Rangers might have a chance of preventing a lopsided series, Lundqvist made 20 saves in the third. He held his team in it and preserved a 2-2 draw until the end of regulation, even with the Kings awarded a power play in the final 1:36 of play.
"I mean, he was the reason we went to overtime," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He gave us a chance. When you get to overtime, a lot of times, it's a bounce, it's a shot. Tonight they got it."
That bounce, or break, came less than five minutes into the overtime period, when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi fell to one knee in his own zone and sent the puck right to L.A.'s Mike Richards, who dished off to Williams for the winner.
It was difficult for Lundqvist to avoid second-guessing.
"I tried to come out and play it the way I should," he said. "I tried to be patient on the second one. He had so much time. I felt like I was patient, and I still made the first move -- same with the third one. I probably could've played that one a little better, but it’s always easy to look back here and have the right answer."
Lundqvist continued, pausing for a long sigh.
"It's ... disappointing, but at the same time, it's just one game," he said. "So we will come back here with a strong performance in the next one."
Clutch performer Justin Williams was exactly that in the series opener, notching the game winner 4:36 into the overtime period to give the Kings a 1-0 series lead.
Though the Rangers dominated in the first 20 minutes of play, they were chasing the puck for the entire third period, outshot by the Kings 14-0 at one point more than midway through the final frame. The Rangers did not register a single shot on goal until there was just 8:17 remaining in the period.
Los Angeles pushed the play for the entire frame, but had nothing to show for it, even after it was awarded a critical power-play opportunity with less than two minutes in regulation. The final minute of the game delivered the type of high-octane, white-knuckle hockey that made the Western Conference finals so exciting, with both the Rangers and Kings trading chances in electric end-to-end action.
Then the legend of Williams, dubbed Mr. Game 7 for his timely goals, continued as he delivered to give the Kings the win.
Comeback kids: Was there ever really any doubt the Kings would come charging back on home ice? After falling behind 2-0, the comeback kids proved again that no lead is safe as they rattled off two of their own to knot the score in the second period. Kyle Clifford got the Kings on the board and Drew Doughty made a sensational move to beat Henrik Lundqvist and atone for a costly turnover earlier in the game that had resulted in the Rangers’ first goal. The Kings also erased a 2-0 deficit in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, rallying from behind to knock off the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in a thrilling overtime win Sunday.
Early lead: If the Rangers are going to make this a series, they will have to employ their speed against a big, heavy Kings squad and that’s exactly what they did in the first period. Both Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin capitalized on Kings' gaffes that resulted in breakaways, with Hagelin's short-handed goal at 15:03 giving the Blueshirts a 2-0 lead. Though the Kings looked gassed in the opening frame, they managed to cut the lead in half before the period was over on Clifford's first goal of the postseason -- a late marker that appeared to rejuvenate them heading into the second period.
Big red dog: The 23-year-old Clifford had a banner night for the Kings, and helped spark the club's comeback with his inspired play. Figuring in on both the first two goals (one goal, one assist), he also made a great hustle play in the second to prevent a goal, back checking with fury against the speedy Hagelin to break up a prime scoring play for the Rangers.
Backing up the backup: Goaltender Cam Talbot was not available to back up Lundqvist during Game 1, throwing 31-year-old David LeNeveu into his place on the Rangers bench. Talbot is out with an undisclosed injury that coach Alain Vigneault has deemed "day-to-day" though he has not skated for three straight days. Talbot did make the trip to Los Angeles with the Rangers but it is not immediately clear when he could be ready to return.
Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr, who has missed the past month with a knee injury, has been medically cleared to play but he did not dress Wednesday night. Sutter opted instead to sit the veteran blueliner for an extra game.
Born: Are, Sweden
How Acquired: Selected by the Rangers in the seventh round (No. 205 overall) in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
In case you didn’t know ...
• Lundqvist, a “butterfly” goaltender, owns several team records, including regular-season wins (309) and shutouts (50) and playoff wins (42) and shutouts (nine, tied with Mike Richter). He is the only goaltender in NHL history to record 30 or more wins in his first seven seasons. And who could forget about his five consecutive Game 7 wins? Lundqvist guided Sweden to the Gold Medal in 2006, but he’s never captured a Stanley Cup title in his storied career.
• Lundqvist was on People Magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Beautiful List” in 2006. He has played lead guitar in a band with good friend/tennis legend John McEnroe called “The Noise Upstairs.” His identical twin brother, Joel, played a couple seasons in the NHL with the Dallas Stars in the mid-2000s.
• In December, “The King” signed the richest contract extension for a goaltender in NHL history in terms of average annual value: seven years, $59.5 million ($8.5 million per season).
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That much remains unclear, as the 26-year-old netminder was absent from practice Sunday at the team's practice facility in Westchester. According to the Rangers he has an "unspecified injury."
After practice, coach Alain Vigneault said that Talbot is "day-to-day" but when pressed further on the issue, he said he did not wish to discuss the situation.
It is not immediately known whether Talbot sustained the injury, or aggravated a pre-existing condition, when he came in for Lundqvist in Game 5 at Bell Centre Tuesday night. Talbot entered the game in the second period after Lundqvist gave up four goals on the first 18 shots he faced.
Talbot surrendered two goals on eight shots during that 7-2 loss. It was his second playoff appearance this spring. He also replaced Lundqvist in Game 6 of the team's first-round series against Philadelphia, stopping all five shots faced from the Flyers.
J.T. Miller, who sustained an upper-body injury in Game 5, skated on his own and is expected to be available at some point of the Stanley Cup Final, maybe even Game 1 on Wednesday.
The Rangers were still awaiting their opponent with the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 Sunday night at the United Center.
The chance to win his first Stanley Cup since emerging as the No. 1 goaltender for the New York Rangers during his rookie season in 2005-06.
“It means a lot,” Lundqvist said Friday during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s “The Michael Kay Show.” “I was gonna say, ‘Everything,’ but there’s so much about this team that I enjoy, and the ride to get here. The entire year it’s just so much fun to play and to win, and to get to know teammates. ... But when it comes down to it, of course you want to win, there’s no question about it. To get this opportunity in the finals here, to get a crack at it, it’s exciting. And now I’m spending the next couple days just enjoying it and getting away from the game a little bit and then just focusing on the next challenge here.”
The Rangers certainly wouldn’t be in this position -- four wins away from capturing hockey’s Holy Grail -- without Lundqvist. During the playoffs, he has posted a 12-7 record with a 2.03 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. In Thursday night’s 1-0 series-clinching victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, Lundqvist broke the franchise record for postseason wins (42), and tied Mike Richter for the top spot in postseason shutouts (nine). The 32-year-old, who was selected by the team in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL draft (No. 205 overall), has done everything for the franchise -- except produce a title.
“It feels good. It feels better and better actually,” Lundqvist said. “It’s very exciting. Nine years in New York. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so it’s a great feeling to finally be here.”
Lundqvist said the best congratulatory text message he got was from his good friend John McEnroe, who is currently doing television work at the French Open in Paris.
“He’s a good friend and a big Ranger fan, so it’s good to have his support,” Lundqvist said.
To secure their first Stanley Cup since 1994, the Rangers are going to have to beat either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings. Those two teams meet Friday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center. The Kings lead the series, 3-2.
“It’s pick your poison,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said on "The Michael Kay Show" on Friday, when asked which team he’d prefer to face. “It’s last year’s Stanley Cup champs versus L.A., which won two years ago. Chicago’s probably a little more skilled. And even though they’re the top scoring team in the playoffs, the Kings are the bigger and better defensive team.”
Vigneault, who took over for John Tortorella behind the Rangers bench prior to this season, feels it took his team longer than he expected to adapt to his style of play -- in part because of a challenging training camp. But they turned things around in the second half of the regular season, and now, as their coach said, “We get a chance to compete for the Cup.”
Vigneault’s team has thrived in the playoffs because of its ability to deploy any of its four lines and three defense pairings at any juncture of the game. Also, the Rangers look unbeatable when leading after two periods, having gone a perfect 10-0 so far in the postseason. Lundqvist has allowed just eight goals in the third period during the playoffs in 20 games.
Vigneault said he texted his good friend Michel Thierren following the Rangers' defeat of the Canadiens in Game 6 on Thursday, and told the Montreal coach he should be proud of the job he did. Vigneault plans to call Thierren in a couple days, allowing him a little time to get over the agony of elimination following a deep run. The two had clashed via the media during the series, leading many to speculate that their friendship may have frayed.
Vigneault said his two daughters, Andreane and Janie, were in the stands at the Garden on Thursday and told their father it was “one of the most unreal experiences they’ve had.”
The best text messages Vigneault received, he said, were from his parents, who are 80 years old. They are glad the Montreal series is finally over, Vigneault added.
The next series -- the one that looms against either the Blackhawks or Kings -- will be the biggest one of them all.
Lundqvist didn’t have to work particularly hard for the 18-save shutout he recorded in the team’s determined and dominant 1-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference, but he left no glimmer of hope for a Habs team gasping its last, desperate breath.
If there was any worry or concern that Lundqvist wasn’t tested early, wasn’t seeing a lot of pucks, wasn’t completely dialed in, those doubts ended in the second period. Those doubts should have been eliminated entirely when he made his most spectacular, awe-inspiring save of the season, spinning like a bulky ballerina, dropping his stick and denying the puck with a dramatic backhanded swat.
“It’s game-saving, for sure,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “He didn’t see a lot shots early on, you could’ve thought maybe he’d freeze up, but he was so focused and mentally sharp tonight, like we’re used to seeing.”
It was not the Lundqvist they saw in Game 5. That Lundqvist took a painfully long and deliberate skate off the Bell Centre ice in Game 5, after an uncharacteristically poor performance. He gave up four goals on 18 shots and was forced to watch his team succumb 7-4 to the Habs instead of closing out the series.
Forty-eight hours later, he was back to the Hank they know. The one whose steadying presence has been so critical to the team’s success that his teammates have run out of superlatives. They shake their head and try to devise new ways to describe his prowess. Especially in the face of pressure.
“Nothing surprises me with that guy,” said top-line center Derek Stepan. “Obviously I’m biased, [but] he’s the best goaltender in the world. He just competes. He competes like a -- I’m not going to say. I probably shouldn’t say. But he competes. He’s unbelievable, that guy.”
This, mind you, from a guy that returned to play in Game 5 just four days removed from surgery to repair his broken jaw.
Lundqvist has broken franchise records -- in all-time wins, playoff wins and shutouts -- and he added to a long list of career accomplishments Thursday. He recorded his 42nd career playoff win and ninth career postseason shutout (tying the legendary Mike Richter). He has allowed two goals or fewer in 15 of 20 games for the Rangers this spring.
He’s been through a bevy of ups and downs, too, especially this season, the toughest start of his career. And there have been low points even throughout this team’s uplifting playoff run as well. The 48 hours leading up to Thursday’s game were not enjoyable.
He wasn’t tested much in the actual game Thursday, but he was tested mentally in the days prior.
“It's been tough. You think a lot, and going into the playoffs, you talked about it is a roller-coaster mentally. You have so many highs. You have a few lows where you're questioning a lot of things, but then you just have to make up your mind. You can't have any excuses. You just have to go out there,” Lundqvist said. “I kept telling myself all day, 'Believe in what you're doing.' I've been in that spot before. It gets silly, you get pulled. You have a tough game, but you just have to stay confident.”
He remained confident even with the Habs spending little time in the Rangers end all game. The Blueshirts were remarkably stingy, so much so that they looked nothing like the hapless squad that abandoned all semblance of structure Tuesday night.
He seems confident, too, in what lies ahead for his team.
“Tonight, I don't think I've been more determined to win a hockey game, you know?” Lundqvist said. “To put ourselves in a spot where we can play for the Cup is extremely special."
It feels like this is the time for Lundqvist, for the team.
"I've been here for nine years and this is my first year in the Final," he said. "So I'm extremely proud of how we did it, to be in this spot."
With the Rangers trailing the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in Game 5 at Bell Centre, Vigneault decided to replace Lundqvist with Talbot. The Rangers countered with three straight goals to tie the game at 4. At that point, many hoped Vigneault would go back to Lundqvist, but the coach elected against it.
New York ultimately lost to Montreal 7-4. The Rangers lead the Canadiens 3-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. Game 6 is Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Biron explained his reasoning during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM's “The Michael Kay Show” on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think they made the right decision; really, it was the only decision,” Biron said. “When you’ve pulled your starter for the backup in the second period, and it’s a situation like this, at 4-1, you’re kinda telling [him], ‘Listen, just go relax. Do whatever you gotta do to get ready for Game 6, because this one, if we win it, it’s a bonus. We’re just gonna try to change something, and we know Talbot has played well in Montreal, so it’s a situation where he can come in and give us a few saves and let’s see if he can get us back in the game.'
“Now what I thought was interesting is because of where Talbot is [relative to the bench], it’s hard for the coach to tell him you’re going in the net; so he’s across the bench in Montreal, he’s not sitting on the bench, so now it takes about a minute, a minute-and-a-half, almost two minutes after they scored their fourth goal to get Lundqvist out of the net. Now I started thinking to myself, ‘What if the Rangers score a goal and they make it 4-2, do you pull Lundqvist?’ Because Talbot’s already getting his equipment, and the answer was, yes, you still pull him because it’s not his night, it’s not the team’s night, so let’s try to change the momentum. And I thought the same frame of mind is coming from me [in terms of sticking with Talbot] for the third period; that’s why I thought it was the right decision to keep Lundqvist away and let him get ready for Game 6.”
Biron, who used to serve as Lundqvist’s backup, knows better than anyone how difficult it is on a goalie to get pulled from the net. A goaltender will check out mentally, and there was no reason for the Rangers to risk injury in this instance.
“Some people don’t understand; they say, ‘He’s their No. 1 goalie, he should be ready to go in whenever you’re asked to.’ But goalies are totally different. You get so mentally focused to play at the start of the game. If they pull you, it’s like the steam comes out of the kettle. You just have to sit and think about the next game, and that’s what he was doing.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, here are Lundqvist's stats in games following a game in which he was pulled:
2013-14 regular season: 3 games, 3 starts, 2-1 record, 3.57 GAA, .879 SV%
Career regular season: 17 games, 17 starts, 12-3-2, 2.41 GAA, .914 SV%
2014 playoffs: 1 game, 1 start, 1-0, 1.00 GAA, .963 SV%
Career playoffs: 3 games, 3 starts, 1-2 record, 3.00 GAA, .887 SV%
How did the team’s notoriously stingy structure simply disappear? How does this loss change the complexion of the series? Can the Rangers still close out the Habs?
But one question that will be turned over and scrutinized and nitpicked by many in the wake of the team’s disheartening defeat will be the one coach Alain Vigneault made with his team trailing by a goal, 5-4, heading into the third period.
Henrik Lundqvist midway through the second period, a move no one will second-guess after the Rangers goaltender surrendered four goals on the first 18 shots he faced. But with replacement Cam Talbot in net, the Rangers rallied back from a 4-1 deficit, tying the game before Rene Bourque scored his second goal of the night to give Montreal a 5-4 edge heading into intermission.
Many wondered: With the game now within reach, will he go back to his star?
He did not.
After the game, he said he never even considered the possibility.
All he offered on the decision was a simple “no.”
In his defense, Lundqvist never quite appeared dialed in Tuesday night. With the Rangers becoming unhinged in the second period, Vigneault yanked the usually steady Swede at 8:58 of the frame in an effort to spark a change with his struggling club.
And it worked, temporarily.
“I pulled him because I thought we needed a little momentum shift and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention,” Vigneault said after the game. “It did, for a while. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
In relief, Talbot surrendered two goals on eight shots, both to Bourque, who led the Habs to victory with a hat trick. It wasn’t Talbot’s fault, nor Lundqvist’s really. Nothing could truly explain to the way the Rangers essentially abandoned their stingy playing style and instead opted to go run-and-gun with skilled, speedy Habs.
“The game just got out of whack, both ways,” veteran Brad Richards said.
But, people will wonder. Oh yes, people will scrutinize that decision and say, "What if Lundqvist had played? Would the outcome have been different?"
From the sounds of it, however, Lundqvist did not fight Vigneault’s decision and angle his way back into action for the third period. He seemed to welcome the mental relief.
“It was better to keep Talbot in there -- for me to get a little break there and start thinking about the next one,” said Lundqvist. “Of course, I was hoping for us to get back in the game and get close. But now we’re going home for a Game 6 at home, and it’s going to be exciting and a great challenge for us.”
Lundqvist will have a full two days to shake the nagging memory of that long skate of shame across the Bell Centre ice, a surface that, until this series, has not been historically kind to the former Vezina Trophy winner.
Maybe there are some lingering doubts still about the demons that exist in this building. Bourque even suggested that Lundqvist has been the inferior of the two goaltenders.
“Everybody talks about how he’s a great goalie,” Bourque said, fanning the flames of a series that has already grown quite nasty. “Has he been better than Ticker [Dustin Tokarski] this series? I don’t think so.”
But don’t forget the last time he got pulled in the playoffs, either. He got the hook back in the team’s first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 and responded just fine. He came back in Game 7 to make 26 saves on 27 shots, leading the Rangers on to the next round.
There will be no doubt that Lundqvist will be back between the pipes when the Rangers return to New York to host the Habs in Game 6, with a chance to close out the series again, this time at home. Vigneault confirmed Lundqvist is not injured.
Though Talbot has proven himself to be a more-than-capable backup, Lundqvist has played like a world-beater this spring. He gives this Rangers team the best chance to win.
Maybe Vigneault didn’t think so Tuesday night, but with a stinging loss to decipher, that will remain a topic up for debate.
Maybe it was postgame frustrations, maybe it was an attempt at gamesmanship, heck, maybe it's just the New York tabloids looking for a back page in the absence of any off-day news, but some comments from the 25-year-old Montreal Canadiens defenseman -- in which he suggested that at least some of Lundqvist's postseason prowess is "luck" -- have been put under the microscope in recent days.
"Is [Lundqvist] playing well? Yeah, but we're doing a good job. Some of it is luck, as well," Subban told reporters after the Habs' 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 2 Monday evening. "He's getting a little bit lucky, but that's what you need in the playoffs."
Lundqvist's numbers, however, seem to suggest otherwise.
The 32-year-old netminder, who has been sensational for the Rangers this spring, made 40 saves Monday night to stake New York to a 2-0 series lead, his fifth consecutive playoff victory. During that span, the former Vezina Trophy winner has posted dazzling numbers that include a 1.20 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage.
Lundqvist laughed and was diplomatic when pressed on the concept of "luck" on Wednesday afternoon after the team's practice. He admitted that some good fortune is necessary for every team at this point of the season, but if he caught wind of Subban's comments, he did not seem to take them personally.
"You definitely need luck. It's a fast game. And there's so many things you can't control as a goalie -- how the game is played, the situations that occur in front of you -- so you have to believe in yourself and you have to work hard and a lot of times you have to earn those bounces," Lundqvist said. "There's definitely some luck, no question."
His teammates did not seem to be perturbed by what Subban said, either, even if they disagreed with the assessment. Backup netminder Cam Talbot, who probably knows better than anyone else in the Rangers' room just how much "luck" goes into posting pristine goaltending stats, said that he finds himself sometimes thinking the opposite.
"I don't know what context [Subban] might have said that in, but [Lundqvist] has been playing that way and that game for the entire playoffs now. If anything he's unlucky, look at some of the bounces he's gotten in the last few games," Talbot said. "The only ones that have gone in off shin pads and stuff like that. I don't think he's a lucky goalie. I think he makes saves because he's in good position and because he's so quick. I don't even know how to respond to that."
Regardless of Subban's feelings, his coach did not seem to agree with the assessment. After Monday's loss, Habs coach Michel Therrien lauded Lundqvist's performance:
"The reason why we lost the game [Monday night] was Lundqvist," Therrien said. "Lundqvist was phenomenal. Phenomenal."
Meanwhile, the Habs are without star netminder Carey Price, who sustained a series-ending injury in Game 1. They went with 24-year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski in Game 2 instead of incumbent backup Peter Budaj.
Game 3 is Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.