Down the stretch in Game 1 on Wednesday, the New York Rangers had their lunch money stolen, their heads dunked in a toilet and their shorts wedgied up so high that people thought they were wearing Fruit of the Loom hats, and they were still just one overtime shot away from being ahead in the Stanley Cup final.
It turned out their ‘B effort,’ as head coach Alain Vigneault described it, the one that got them outshot 20-3 in that firing squad they called a third period, was enough to push heavily favoured Los Angeles to the brink of defeat in the series opener.
So it stands to reason that the Rangers, at their best, might not need an act of God to win this thing.
Just Henrik Lundqvist.
Anyone who didn’t know it before knows it know, after watching New York’s goalie send shivers down every spine in the Staples Center — a team with Lundqvist on it is never out of a game and never out of a series.
“Absolutely,” New York winger Carl Hagelin said. “He’s the backbone of this team and has been that for the last 10 years.
“Some games, with him back there, all it takes is for us to score one goal. And we know we have enough in here to score one goal. He’s the MVP of this team.”
And if they win a Stanley Cup, he will be the Conn Smythe trophy winner. It’s as simple as that.
New York’s Cup dream depends on Lundqvist. If he’s incredible, they can win. If he’s not, they can’t.
It’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders, but it’s a scenario the Rangers are quite content to accept, knowing their guy is on the incredible side of the dial a lot more than he isn’t.
“He’s been huge,” defenceman Ryan McDonagh said. “He’s a big reason why we’re here. Probably one of the No. 1 reasons. He wants to give us a chance to win by doing it the only way he knows — that’s saving pucks, making desperation saves and making sure that when a team is making a push late in the game he’s standing on his head.”
And when the push is a 20-3 shot attack that looks like something from a prison shower, there’s no need to panic.
“He’s played great for our team,” Derick Brassard said. “All year long he basically gave us a chance to win every night.
“We could have won Game 1. It would have been great for him because he deserved it. We’re not expecting anything less the rest of the way.”
Even the Kings, who have Jonathan Quick on their side, realize just how dangerous it is to be facing a goalie like Lundqvist.
“He’s tough to beat, he looks big in there,” Game 1 hero Justin Williams said. “He can be intimidating because there’s not much room to shoot at.”
Lundqvist, making his first trip to the Stanley Cup final, has been his cool typical self all week. To him, his performance in Game 1, and the pressure on him to be superb going forward, are no big deal.
“It was just nice to finally get going,” he said. “As a goalie there’s obviously a lot of things you can’t control, but I felt like I was in the right place mentally, and technically I felt pretty good.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but there was a lot of good things we can build on for the next game. It was a 2-2 game, we could easily have won that game.”
If by easily, he means a goalie with a .928 save percentage withstanding a relentless siege while the rest of his teammates chase butterflies on the soccer field, then, yes, it was easy.
“As a goalie, it’s a fun challenge, too, when they’re putting the heat on you,” Lundqvist said. “Especially in that third period, it was a lot of action. But it was a fun challenge.”
And just like his teammates know he’ll be there for them in Game 2, Lundqvist is confident they will figure out a way to help themselves. With a goalie who gives them so much room for error, they don’t have to be perfect, just a little bit better than they were in Game 1.
“Like I said, a lot of things were good, and there’s some things we talked about now that we’re going to try to correct and do better tomorrow,” said Lundqvist. “We’re ready for this challenge, try to even this up.”
STANLEY CUP NOTES
It was only a two-game wrist slap, but John Moore felt like he had been suspended in dog years.
Sitting out Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final felt like forever.
“It was tough to watch up there, it was really hard,” said the Rangers defenceman, who’s eligible to play again now that’s he has served the penalty for his hit on Dale Weiss.
“I think the immediate reaction after Game 6 was relief. These guys battled back and gave me a chance to come back and play some more hockey this year.
“But to not be out there (for the final), to be watching in the stands is a tough pill to swallow. But you make your bed, you’ve got to sleep in it.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault won’t say whether or not Moore will draw in for Game 2 on Saturday, but he won’t have to ask twice.
“I’m more than ready,” said Moore.
— The L.A. Kings know they’re going to have their hands full with New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but Justin Williams doesn’t even bother asking former Ranger Marian Gaborik for advice on his to beat him.
“I know he scored five goals in one game against him a couple of years ago,” Williams said. “But no. I don’t. Marian knows how to score. It’s like asking Mozart to teach you how to play the piano. It just doesn’t work, right?”
— Martin St. Louis is wondering if the media is taking New York’s loss harder than the Rangers are. After some doom-and-gloom questioning after practice Friday, the Rangers forward told everyone to please step away from the ledge.
“It’s one game, it’s just one game,” he said. “Let’s gather ourselves and get ready for a big Game 2.
“You can’t get too down, too high. You just have to stay the course. We’ve done a good job of that this year and we’re going to keep doing it. As hard as it is, we’re going to keep doing it until this final is over.
“We want to get back in the battle — Saturday will be that day.”