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Lundqvist, NY Rangers Proving That Games Aren't Played on Paper

Keith SheltonAnalyst IApril 19, 2009

WASHINGTON - APRIL 15:    Scott Gomez #19 and Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrate a win over the Washington Capitals during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 15, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

It was predetermined on the day that the playoff matchups were released, at least by the media.

The Washington Capitals would meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and it would be bigger than any playoff series in NHL history, based on the absurd notion that there are only two stars in the NHL, and they are named Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

Well, one team was doing their part to make that sportswriter's prophecy come true anyway. It wasn't the Washington Capitals.

No one was talking about the New York Rangers, and make note of that because it's not often when a New York team in the playoffs is simply written off as sacrificial lambs by the media.

That's what happened though. However, in the media's infatuation with all of Washington's talent, Alexander "the great" Ovechkin, the highest scoring defenseman in the NHL in Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and rising star Nicklas Backstrom, they forgot that playoff series are so much more than just star power.

So the New York Rangers, whose highest scoring pair of forwards had just 58 points and whose biggest media magnet was the always controversial Sean Avery were supposed to lay down and let the NHL have its spotlight series.

They forgot about Henrik Lundqvist, who no one was talking about last week, but who just shut out Washington and carried his team to a 2-0 series lead.

They're talking about him now. Yesterday, Mike Milbury called Lundqvist one of the NHL's top three goaltenders, which might be a slight exaggeration, but at least he's getting respect now.

Meanwhile, Washington's starting goaltender, Jose Theodore, was lit up for four goals in 21 shots in game one, and went with sparingly used rookie Simeon Varlamov in game two. This wasn't according to the script.

56 goal scorer Alexander Ovechkin was held without a goal in his team's first two playoff games at home, and now the pressure will be on to perform on the road.

The Rangers are in a very favorable position that, historically, few NHL teams manage to screw up.

They return to Madison Square Garden with a goalie soaring with confidence. He's known as King Henrik to the New York friendly, and they'll be giving him a royal welcome.

Meanwhile, Washington must decide whether to go with the struggling former Vezina winner Jose Theodore or let the green around the gills rookie have another shot.

With Varlamov, the Caps may have limited themselves offensively. Having a rookie with six NHL starts in goal for the playoffs doesn't exactly inspire confidence, even though he did play outstanding. The team will likely score more with Theodore in net, but then you risk shaky goaltending.

Whether you're a fan of New York or not, they are reminding us all of why the NHL playoffs are the greatest playoffs in professional sports. Because upsets do happen, and they happen regularly, and sometimes all the star power in the world can't save you. The NHL playoffs reward those who raise their game the most, and who work the hardest.

The Rangers have done just that, halfway through this series.

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