For the New York Rangers to overcome an 0-2 series deficit against the resurgent Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist must play at an elite level for the remainder of the series.
Sunday's 5-2 loss in Game 2 at TD Garden was one of the lowest points of the Rangers' season, one that could end quickly if the Blueshirts fail to win Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.
"I don’t think you can say that we were close in this game," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "We did have chances there in the second. I think the second period was probably our best period of the six we’ve played so far against them. We weren’t able to get enough goals there."
After back-to-back shutouts in the final two games of the Rangers' first-round series against the Washington Capitals (including a Game 7 road victory), Lundqvist has given up eight goals in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
"I’m not evaluating our goaltending," said Rangers head coach John Tortorella after Game 2. "I don’t need to evaluate Henrik. We know what Henrik is."
New York is facing an 0-2 deficit for the second consecutive playoff series, but mounting another remarkable series comeback will be much harder against Boston than it was against Washington.
"We’ve done it before," said Lundqvist when asked if his team is still feeling confident heading home down 0-2.
"But I think we are playing a better team now so it’s going to be tough to do it. They’re a solid team and you can’t give them too much. They work hard and they pay attention to all the details in the game and that’s why they have been so successful so far in these two games."
Lundqvist is arguably the best netminder in the NHL and is the model of consistency at his position. He was named as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy earlier this month after winning the award for the first time last year, but there's no question that he has not played to his normal standard versus the Bruins.
Here are some historical stats from Lundqvist's disappointing Game 2 performance:
- Lundqvist had never allowed more than three goals against the Bruins in his 32 previous starts (including playoffs) before Sunday.
- He had gone 151 straight games (including playoffs) without giving up five goals before Game 2 (Every start since March 9, 2011).
- The last time Lundqvist allowed five goals in a playoff game: Apr. 26, 2009, Game 6 of Round 1 vs. Capitals.
Not all of the Bruins' eight goals in this series have been Lundqvist's fault, but he could have done a bit better on all three he gave up in Game 1, as well as Gregory Campbell's goal off a rebound to give Boston a 2-1 lead in the second period on Sunday.
"The third and fourth goals are defendable," said Tortorella. "We made coverage mistakes. Our second period is where we want to be. We can’t put it in the net. We had multiple chances. We felt really good going into the third, and to have that type of goal go in on just a two-on-two, it hurts you."
With the Rangers playing so poorly defensively and unable to capitalize on their power-play opportunities in this series, Lundqvist will need to carry this team through its scoring struggles once more. Against a team with great depth and a wealth of playoff experience, this will be among the hardest challenges that Lundqvist has faced in his brilliant NHL career.
New York is now 0-of-21 on the road in power-play opportunities, including an 0-of-5 showing in Game 2.
"Our power play was better tonight," said Tortorella. "Didn’t score, but it was better."
Since the Bruins are so strong at even strength, failing to capitalize with the man advantage is going to hurt the Rangers in this series.
Overall, the Rangers have scored the second-fewest goals of the eight remaining teams in the playoffs with an average of 2.22 per game.
Many of the team's most highly skilled forwards have failed to find the back of the net through the two games in Boston, including Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Derick Brassard. Superstar winger Rick Nash finally scored his first playoff goal for the Rangers in Game 2, but he still needs to be a lot more productive against the Bruins for his team to earn positive results consistently.
New York is unable to rely on its offense to make up for the team's breakdowns defensively, which puts a huge responsibility on Lundqvist to make almost every save for the Rangers to have a chance of victory in the third period.
There were too many times when Rangers defensemen, most notably Dan Girardi (who was on the ice for all five of Boston's goals), were either out of position or not able to handle the Bruins' speed in the defensive zone. A couple of Boston's goals on Sunday were also scored by trailers, which shows the Rangers forwards' inability to back check effectively.
Of the goals that Lundqvist allowed in Game 2, there was one or more Rangers in front of the net preventing their goaltender from getting a clean loom at the puck. If a player is going to be in front of the goal, a shot block has to be expected, but the Rangers blocked just 12 Bruins shots on Sunday after preventing 29 of them from reaching Lundqvist in the series opener.
It's very rare that you see so many defensive breakdowns from the Rangers, who are one of the most fundamentally strong teams in this aspect of the game. New York prides itself on team defense, and it must get back to this in Game 3 or there will be a real chance that Boston could sweep this series.
Another reason why Lundqvist needs to play at perfect level to win this series is because his opposite number, Tuukka Rask, is also one of the top goaltenders in the league and won't give up many goals in this series (just four GA in two games).
Rask is 6-3 in the playoffs with a .928 save percentage and a 2.32 GAA, and if he didn't stop the Rangers on nearly all of the odd-man rushes they created off of terrible defensive plays and turnovers from the Bruins in Game 2, the final scoreline would have looked much different.
The Bruins' No. 1 goalie is fully capable of outplaying Lundqvist in this series, which has been the case in the first two games. Given the team's trouble scoring enough goals, this is a matchup that the Rangers cannot afford to lose if they are to make a series comeback.
"Well we’ve got a lot of confidence in Tuukka [Rask]," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. "And if you compare both there’s no doubt that Henrik Lundqvist has more experience than Tuukka [Rask] does, but that doesn’t change anything."
"He’s been good for us all year, and our guys have lots of confidence in him. So it’s about having confidence in your goaltender and finding ways to get through the other one."
Fair or not, Lundqvist has to stand on his head for rest of this series for the Rangers to win four of the next five games and reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season.
Luckily, the Blueshirts have a goaltender who is among the best in the league at putting disappointing results behind him and focusing on the next challenge.
"I’m confident and I’m going to go home and try to play a strong game in the next one."
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston. All quotes obtained first hand.