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Henrik Lundqvist Bears the Burden of Carrying His Team

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers reacts to letting in the second goal against the Detroit Red Wings on December 6, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Hot Stove New YorkSenior Writer IDecember 10, 2009

Whether he likes it or not, the only chance the New York Rangers have of winning these days is if Henrik Lundqvist plays like Superman. The team has been offensively challenged most of the season and defensively challenged as well, so with that going for them, they need Lundqvist to be perfect, which is of course, impossible. Let’s look at the last three games.

They went up to Buffalo and tightened up their defense and lo and behold, came out of the game with a victory. Yes, defense is important. “The Rangers weren’t going to let us play inside,” said Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.“They closed off (the middle).”

The team played a solid game and Chris Drury had this to say about their effort, “There were a lot of things we did well and we just played hard.” Yes, playing hard is important. Yet, they only scored two goals and were 0-2 on the power play.

Lundqvist shrugged off his slump and outdueled Miller, making 36 saves and combined with a better defensive effort. It added up to a win despite the woeful offensive production. Hank let in a softy at the end of the third period, which didn’t affect the outcome, but was a bit of foreshadowing for the next two games.

Back home against Detroit, the Rangers played one of their best games of the year. The defensive improvement continued and they played a physical game, but they still couldn’t score. The power play was a sad 0-4 and Ryan Callahan couldn’t score on a penalty shot. (The shootout has taken all the drama out of that once-exciting play, hasn’t it?) Nicklas Lidstrom put on a clinic in shutting down Marian Gaborik, so it was up to Lundqvist to save them and he couldn’t quite do it.

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, on the other hand, stole a game for his team, while Lundqvist spoiled his excellent effort by letting in another late-game softy. “I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t really see it in front of me,” the Rangers goalie said. “I was expecting a shot earlier, and then I just went far down and I kind of got stuck there. It is a tough one to let in that late.” One false move by Lundqvist, and the Rangers lose.

Last night in Chicago, the Blackhawks controlled the puck all game long. They came in waves at Lundqvist, as he kept his team from being completely humiliated with one doozy of a save after another (39 in all). The game wasn’t even close to what the final score was, as the Rangers were awful.

This time, the late third period goal wasn’t Lundqvist’s fault, as it came on a power play for Chicago with a number of Rangers standing around looking at Hank as the Hawks fought for and put the puck in the net. And then the game-winner in OT came on a breakaway. John Tortorella said of his goalie, “He was the one who played. He was about the only one who played.” And that quote sums up that game.

The Rangers can’t score goals and the opposition is zooming in on stifling Gaborik, so it’s up to Lundqvist to keep them in games. If he’s off, the team will lose. And if he’s great, they may lose anyway. Until they can figure out how to put the puck in the net, play consistent defense, and compete every night, it’s going to be a long, long season.

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