Saturday, May 19, 2012

King reigns supreme

Despite another Devil onslaught, Henrik Lundqvist was cool as can be. The unflappable 30-year old Ranger netminder backed up his Vezina and Hart nominations with a scintillating performance to steal Game Three today from New Jersey. Lundqvist was much busier than the first two games, repelling all 36 shots in blanking the Devils 3-0 at The Rock.

Nothing seems to bother him. Not the constant buzzing by Pete DeBoer's all out attack that tilted the ice until John Tortorella used a timeout early in the second period. Nine periods have been played between the blood rivals and the Devils have controlled at least six. So, they should be winning. Unfortunately, they've run into a brick wall in net for the Rangers. Lundqvist has dealt with a maze of red and black in front but remains unfazed by the challenge. One such opportunity saw a Bryce Salvador shot with Zach Parise leaping to screen but the best Blueshirt just held his ground to stop the puck.

There were plenty of other dangerous opportunities for the Devils to break through. Oh. They dominated again in the first, outshooting the Rangers 11-5 and outchancing them by a country mile. It didn't matter. The scoreboard didn't change due to the stellar play of King Henrik. He faced at least half a dozen odd-man rushes including the Devils' best Ilya Kovalchuk, who made the right move and had him dead to rights, only to watch a sliding Lundqvist get his glove on it. There also was Parise who came in two-on-one but some hustle from Marc Staal made it a routine save with Lundqvist sticking it aside.

The Devils came and came as if they benefited more from the extra day off while it appeared most of Lundqvist's teammates forgot to set their alarm clocks. If not for him bailing them out along with more defensive prowess from Ryan McDonagh, it could've been over. Instead of trailing by three or four, the Rangers breathed easier. Apparently, they forgot to battle the first couple of shifts in period two, prompting Tortorella to call timeout and yell at his bench.

Afterwards, the rest of the team finally awakened and played the Devils more even. There wasn't any scoring in the second but it was the most exciting period due to the Hudson rivals trading chances. Something Tortorella alluded to during an in-game interview with NBC's Pierre McGuire. He made sure to point out that if his club didn't establish a forecheck, they had no chance. It was that one-sided for twenty-two and a half minutes.
The much discussed coach changed it up by flipping Chris Kreider with Carl Hagelin in addition to reinserting Steve Eminger for Stu Bickel. He also tried Mike Rupp with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust but they were just not clicking. Eventually, Ruslan Fedotenko supplanted Rupp in the decisive third.

If you loved goaltending, then you enjoyed Lundqvist's denial on Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur's stone job on Ryan Callahan, who had a gaping net until Marty's second acrobatic backhand glove stop of the series. Jaw dropping stuff from a legend defying his age which has been too played up. He's 10 years older than his opposite No.30 who is hoping 30 is the key number along with many Garden Faithful. The contrast in style makes for an intriguing match-up with Brodeur more unconventional with his stand-up and then challenge while Lundqvist is more back in his net looking to outthink shooters.

Both goalies have had strong series. Brodeur was at his best in Game Two with an acrobatic kick out that made the highlight reel and Lundqvist with his assortment of denials amidst chaos. In this one, Henrik was needed to steal the game and take home ice back. So, he faced 26 shots through two stopping the Devils in their tracks. Not easy even if you look at his history against Marty. This is the Conference Finals and these Devils pressure and pressure until you cough up the puck. They're bigger, stronger and more aggressive. It won't change Monday or for the rest of the series.

While Lundqvist did his part also sliding across to make a beautiful glove stop on Kovalchuk during one of the Devils' five power plays, he got plenty of help from a penalty kill that was diligent enough to keep Jersey's team off the board. It was McDonagh blocking shots along with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi while gritty soldiers like Boyle and Prust made hustle plays to get the puck out.  Prust who ironically got away with a cheapshot elbow on Anton Volchenkov in the second that drew the ire of the fans. Inexplicably, it was missed. Probably a major. Prust will be probably have at least the next game off. He also made contact with Brodeur, playing more engaged. Unless you're a Devil worshipper that is.

The Rangers again had success on the power play. A sore spot during this run has suddenly done damage, scoring in all three games. On just their second chance, Brad Richards won a faceoff clean right to a pinching Girardi who rifled one past Brodeur. It was his third of the playoffs. Such a play is something we're not used to. The Rangers normally struggle to win key draws on the man-advantage. But during that one, they won three in a row.
The goal was followed up almost immediately by a great forecheck started by fourth liner John Mitchell, who waited long enough for a chance before dumping the puck to Derek Stepan. Before you knew it, there was McDonagh firing a shot off Kreider's stick for the big second goal. By no means was it over with 12-plus minutes left and the Devils pushed back immediately with some close calls including Peter Harrold's try that went off Lundqvist's best friend, the crossbar.


Sometimes, you're lucky. Brodeur had the same help earlier when Hagelin found Richards who rang it off the bar. But we're talking about two great goalies who more often than not, will make the clutch save. Fortunately for the Rangers, they had the King.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brian Boyle, NYR (tremendous defensively, gritty performance, assist)
2nd Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (a monster defensively plus a helper)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (36 saves incl. 26/26 thru 2, 2nd SHO of series-3rd in 2012 playoffs)


Note: Ryan Callahan scored into an open net with over two minutes left.

1 comment:

Hasan said...

Can't dispute the title.

The Puck Stops Here

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