By Allan Muir
You almost have to feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist, don't you? The Man Who Has Everything has nothing to show for his efforts through the first three games of the Stanley Cup finals.
No luck. No help. No wins.
Well, nothing is not entirely accurate, of course. The embattled Rangers 'keeper does have one thing:
Lundqvist was on the hook for three goals on just 15 shots in New York's 3-0 loss to the Kings on Monday night. But who could blame him, right? The first might have changed direction slightly after deflecting off the skate of defenseman Dan Girardi from about 20 feet out. The second was redirected by the well-meaning block attempt of Martin St. Louis. The third came when the puck bounced off the skate of Rangers blueliner Ryan McDonagh and directly onto the tape of L.A.'s Mike Richards.
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In fact, that's pretty much been the story of the series for Lundqvist. Of the five goals he allowed in Game 2, two were deflections, two were rebounds and one was heavily screened. In Game 1, the Kings' comeback was fueled by a jam play at the side of the crease and a costly giveaway in OT that led to a money chance in the low slot.
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Tough, tough chances, no doubt. But since when did that let a goalie off the hook? Especially a goalie who was his team's leading Conn Smythe Trophy contender coming into the final?
Lundqvist tried to explain it all away on Monday night.
"Obviously it’s mentally challenging to try to overcome that first goal," he said of Jeff Carter's game-winner, which snuck in with less than a second remaining in the first period. "And they get that fluky bounce again on the second ... We are doing a lot good things, but you look at the goals and we put two in our own net and then just a tough play on the third one.
"At some point, you are going to need some puck luck and we don’t have any right now."
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Maybe so, but what New York really hasn't had are stops. Big stops. Game-changing stops.
You know, the kind that Jonathan Quick has been making for L.A.
We're not singing Quick's praises because he has made the saves he was supposed to make. We're tipping our cap to him because he has stopped so many shots that he flat-out shouldn't have.
Just think back to Game 3. With the game still scoreless in the 14th minute of the first period, Mats Zuccarello swatted at the puck while it lay in the crease. Quick appeared to be caught out of position, but when the shot trickled off the inside of the left post, he was there with the paddle of his goal stick to prevent it from crossing the line.
Then in the second, with the Kings holding on to a 2-0 lead, Derick Brassard pounced on a rebound to the goalie's right and fired it toward the gaping cage. Again, Quick exploded across the crease and made a dazzling stick save that left Brassard smashing the boards in frustration.
Both were Grade-A chances, in-tight and off the sticks of proven goal scorers. If those shots go in, they change the course of the game.
But they didn't. Against all odds, Quick came up with both saves.
No excuses needed.
"[Quick] was obviously the best player on the ice tonight," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said somberly in the aftermath of defeat. "You've got to finish in this game. It's a performance-oriented business."
Quick has proven that he can finish. The 'keeper who started the playoffs allowing 12 goals in his first five periods of action now has a shutout streak of 116:16 in the finals. No one said it was easy. He's just made it look that way while leading the Kings to within one win of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
As for New York, it's probably too late for the Rangers to work their way back into this series ... but it's not too late to stop making excuses for Lundqvist. In the biggest series of his career, he's come up short when his team has needed him most.
L.A. and New York will meet in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)