Thursday April 23rd, 2009

To say the Rangers lead this first-round series 3-1 is a bit misleading. Really, it's Henrik Lundqvist 3, Washington Capitals 1.

The goalie is carrying this New York Rangers team on his back, as he made 38 saves and led them to a 2-1 win Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden (BOX |RECAP). He's stopping virtually everything he sees -- and even what he doesn't -- and is taking his team to the brink of what could be the most unlikely upset of this first round.

"I think he saved the game again," Washington winger Alex Ovechkin said. "All I can say about him: He's great right now."

Despite outshooting the Rangers, 39-21, (and they've done that in each of the first four games), the Capitals can't seem to solve the New York goalie. Everything they are throwing his way, Lundqvist is seeing, and everything he sees, he stops.

"The key is to let Hank see them and then get rid of the rebounds," said Rangers defenseman Wade Redden.

There is no real logical explanation for how a team that has outshot their opponents by 50 over four games could be facing elimination in Game 5, but sometimes hockey defies logic. And so does Lundqvist. Even with Ovechkin's best efforts, which he showed in Game 4.

"Sometimes you fight it, and you open up and create holes," Lundqvist said. "But when you're confident, you're patient, and a lot of times you let the puck come to you and then you can just react."

That's how he explained his two magnificent gloves saves of Ovechkin, who tried to carry his team himself in much the same way. Spending 28:47 on the ice, more than any other player on either team, offense or defense, Ovechkin tried everything he could to get the win. He double-shifted every power play. He took 11 shots on Lundqvist, and even though he scored early in the third to cut the lead in half, it just wasn't enough. It's not logical that the best player in the NHL, doing everything he's done in this series, is down in this 3-1 hole.

But who needs logic when Lundqvist's got instincts?

Sean Avery just can't seem to help himself. After Monday night's game, where he took five penalties including a 10-minute game misconduct, the winger committed two rather nasty offenses in the third period. The first, with 10:21 left in the period, was particularly harsh. As Avery and Milan Jurcina crashed into the endboards chasing the puck for the icing call, Avery extended his right arm, which swung back and nailed Jurcina square in the face. The butt-end of the stick appeared to still be in his right hand, but the important thing is that Avery made it look accidental -- at least to the people in the stands, and they were irate, calling for the referees' heads. Even though the Capitals were on the power play, they had to do it while 18,200 fans sang "A-hole" from the stands.

John Tortorella didn't say much about Avery and his penalties, but he wasn't happy. He told reporters after the game that he wouldn't comment on it, but there were a number of things he wasn't happy about. "We are going to have to improve in a number of areas, starting with our discipline," he did say. "I don't know how many penalties we had. That is too good of a power play to be in the box."

Chris Drury, who has been playing with an undisclosed injury since the end of the regular season, scored his first goal of the playoffs. Drury, who seems to be nursing a hand injury, lobbed a shot (looked more like a saucer pass, really) at Simeon Varlamov, who went to catch it in his glove. But the goalie mishandled it, and left the rebound in front for Drury to knock in. "I knew the guys were going to give me a hard time on the first shot," says the captain. "I've just been trying to chip in wherever and however I can.... I got a good break and got one in."

• Ranger youngsters Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky led New York forwards in ice time with 22:16 and 19:36 respectively. That's at least six minutes more than the 13-plus minutes put up by Scott Gomez, Nik Antropov and Markus Naslund -- the big-time names with the salaries to prove it. "It's not about salaries, it's not about draft picks, who you are, it's about getting the job done," Tortorella said. "[Callahan and Dubinsky] deserve to be out there."

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