Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lundqvist wins goalie duel with Miller

Sometimes, you're only as good as your goalie. For the Rangers, it's like a broken record or kinda like the groundhog seeing his shadow for six more weeks of winter earlier today. Groundhog Day happens to be one of my favorite movies. Though the part where Bill Murray's Phil character keeps waking up to the alarm clock and song "I Got Ya Babe" does get tedious. It's still so enjoyable. Can't believe I can't even find it on the TV. Epic fail.

Not so much for Henrik Lundqvist, who this time outdueled an opposite No.30 for a 1-0 shootout win over the Sabres last night in Western New York. Lundqvist went toe to toe with former Vezina winner Ryan Miller for 65 minutes with it needed a skill competition to decide. Of course, there was just as much drama in that as the final frantic moments of regulation and overtime where both goalies had close calls. I'm not going to compare this duel to the unbelievable one King Henrik and Martin Brodeur shared a couple of years ago at MSG with Marty getting the better of Henke. That saw both netminders face a ton more shots and plethora of quality chances. However, you really have to give Miller and Lundqvist credit. Both knew that one goal would decide it.

“To win in a shootout and not give up any goals, obviously it’s a good goalie game,” Lundqvist said after stopping all 34 Buffalo shots while getting help from the goalpost in the shootout. “I’ll take that any day.”

With his 41st career blanking, King Henrik tied the Kings' Jon Quick for the league lead with six- further enhancing his Vezina chances. Plenty of games left to play for Lundqvist, Quick, Jimmy Howard and Pekka Rinne to duke it out. Though you have to like Lundqvist's chances the way he's playing. Our team remains in first despite scoring issues. It can be attributed to the remarkable play of Henke along with a sturdy D led by Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh.

“I don’t think he’s been at this level. He’s improved this year,” praised John Tortorella after seeing his All-Star move past Dave Kerr into second all-time on the franchise's shutout list, trailing only Ed Giacomin. “If you want to get to where you want to be, you need goaltending like that. He’s certainly provided that.”
While Lundqvist didn't show any signs of rust in his first start following his All-Star appearance in Ottawa, Miller continued to look more like the guy who won a Vezina and carried the Sabres to first a couple of years ago. He's struggled much of the season since Milan Lucic bowled him over and concussed him earlier in the year. But Miller Time is starting show again with two wins over his last three while permitting just a pair of goals, including zero yesterday in a tough luck loss.

“It was fun to be a part of. I haven’t had too many good outings in the last few months,” Miller noted. “To go up against Lundqvist, who’s having a great season, and have a night like this, where it kind of puts us in the spotlight at each end, it’s nice to be a part of."
The Sabres are still hoping to climb back in the playoff picture, still trailing eighth New Jersey by nine points with 31 games left. The point at least pushed them past idle Montreal and the Islanders- giving them 48 which put Buffalo in a tie for 11th with Tampa Bay. The Bolts have played two less games while the Canadiens are back in action with a visit to the Devils as we type. Obviously, they need help. But the effort was there despite no Thomas Vanek, who's out a week due to an "upper body injury."

Had Buffalo cashed in on any of five power plays including a late one thanks to a Mike Del Zotto delay of game, they could've earned the valuable extra point and all important win. Instead, they were stymied by Lundqvist and an outstanding Ranger PK that may as well double power play duty considering how awful they looked during a four-on-three in OT. With a chance to win it, the four forward alignment of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan moved the puck around the perimeter, making it easy on Miller, whose best save came when his cat-like glove robbed Artem Anisimov late in regulation.

The powerless play is far too predictable with our guys trying to cut it too fine with only Captain Cally willing to get dirty in front. The play of Richards in particular has hurt the team. He really isn't doing a whole lot. It might be time for Tort to switch it up. Why not try a guy like Carl Hagelin, who's unafraid to shoot and uses his speed along with grit to make things happen? The coach simply needs to stop rolling out the same unit. Work in Brandon Dubinsky and even Anisimov. They really should determine how far this club goes.

Lundqvist made the more difficult saves, thwarting Brad Boyes twice. Perhaps that was a prelude because in Round 2 of the skill competition, he made arguably the best save you'll see. With Boyes deking and having our Swedish King dead to rights, somehow Henke slid his glove across while flat on his back to rob him. I'll never know how he did it and was just as flabbergasted as Doc Emrick. After Gaborik put us up, Jason Pominville knotted it by going low stick side. It took until the fifth round when Rochester's own Callahan again gave grandma a show by faking deke and then surprising Miller with a quick wrister to win it, along with an awesome fist pump.

It allowed Lundqvist to win his 23rd of the season and win the Broadway Hat. But couldn't you say that about just about every game he plays? Case closed.

BONY Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (shootout winner)
2nd Star-Ryan Miller, Buf (29 saves, shutout)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (34 saves, 6th shutout-career No.41)

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