It seems surreal that Henrik Lundqvist first took the ice at Madison Square Garden about four years ago. It was natural for this great goalie to become a fan favorite in relative quick fashion, especially after taking three points from the hated New Jersey Devils in his first two games in the NHL. The stage had been set for “Hank” to become the next Mike Richter in New York. He would be the stone wall between the two red pipes. Shortly after his debut, the media in New York bestowed him the nickname, “King.” Why wouldn’t they? Since that time, he has become the first and only goalie to post four consecutive 30 win seasons in his first four seasons in the league.
However, there has been something amiss with King Lundqvist of Sweden’s play. When the weather starts getting hot, the King doesn’t seem to play like a 30 game winner. He plays like the young, inexperienced goalie that he truly is. He certainly isn’t at the caliber of his river-rival, Martin Brodeur. At the ripe old age of 27, I know full well that provided Henrik stays healthy, he can eventually get to the status of a Brodeur or a Roy. My issue is, four seasons is plenty for an athlete to come into his own and be ready for the playoffs, to show how clutch of a player he can be in the playoffs. In the past two games, Henrik hasn’t shown that side of his play.
Game four was where it began. While he faced 39 shots, he let only one goal through. That’s the stellar, phenomenal play one would expect from the second coming of Christ between the pipes. You can’t expect that to last too long, and I do fully put that on the Ranger defensemen’s shoulders. They needed to do a much better job of stopping shots from getting through to Lundqvist. Perhaps, dare I say it, hitting the man with the puck just might jar that black piece of rubber loose, and let you take it back. I sat in Madison Square Garden for that game, screaming until I lost my voice “HIT HIM!” And, naturally, they didn’t hear me, and they didn’t listen. Maybe John Tortorella should yell at his team, rather than the display he put on during Game Five.
While we’re bringing up Game Five, let’s get back onto Hank’s case. Carrying over from his amazing display of 38 saves, Lundqvist only saw 14 shots in two periods of work, and let 4 slip past him and into the net. Backup goalie and natural disaster Stephen Valiquette took over for the third period and stopped all 7 shots he faced. To top it off, I personally filed a Missing Persons report in Washington for the Rangers offense.
Henrik’s fantastic plan of “let the puck slip past the line, and hope no one notices” didn’t seem to work in Game Six. In twenty shots, Lundqvist let five shots bank not only into the net, but right through his glove side. Each of the five shots went right over his glove side shoulder. If not for my girlfriend physically restraining me, I would have taken my computer and smashed it through my brand new HDTV. Did he not realize that the Capitals were going to expose his weakness? Sure, he had some unbelievable saves earlier in the series using that same glove. But it was bound to happen for him. People would find out where he lets his goals through, and they would expose him on it. To the tune of five goals in another two periods of work. Once again, Valiquette comes to save the day, and blanks out the Capitals for the third period.
While the Rangers didn’t do much to back up Lundqvist for the second game in a row, this just shows how Henrik hasn’t matured into a goalie you would want in a playoff situation. At this point, I would still take Brodeur over Lundqvist in the playoffs. This all coming from a person who worships the ground that this “King” walks on. He’s blown two games in a row, where the Rangers could have sealed the deal and moved on to playing Boston. Now they’re backed against a wall. They’re playing like the team people expected them to play like prior to the series. The Capitals have all the momentum in the world, and Henrik Lundqvist has all the weight of the media scrutiny resting on his shoulders. If he loses this one, when does the talk start where we question his ability in the playoffs? Do we give him another two or three years to prove himself after this before the media turns on him? Or do we just get all over him starting tomorrow (provided the Rangers lose this crucial game)?
Personally, I hope he pulls it out. I like him as a player, and I found him to be one of the classiest, friendliest athletes I’ve ever met. All that aside, it’s time for Henrik to step his game up. He needs a win tonight more than he’s ever needed a win in his NHL career. It’s just up to him to get his act together and stop a Capitals team that he’s already shown earlier in the series exactly who the King of the ice is.
Erik Espenberg is a native New Yorker who is an avid fan of the Yankees, Rangers, and Jets. When not writing for Camel Clutch, he can be found killing his brain cells playing assorted video games. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .