I couldn’t believe the Canadiens went on the power play 22 seconds into Game 5. I couldn’t believe they scored 1:26 into that power play. I couldn’t believe Henrik Lundqvist gave up the goal he did to Tomas Plekanic just 1:40 after the Rangers tied the game at 1. I couldn’t believe Lundqvist let Max Pacioretty beat him 3:44 into the second period and then let Rene Bourque turn around and find the back of the net 3:10 later. I couldn’t believe Lundqvist was pulled with 11:02 left in the second and I couldn’t believe he didn’t come back for the start of the third. I couldn’t believe Henrik Lundqvist didn’t show up for Game 5.
The Bell Centre has long been to Henrik Lundqvist what both Yankee Stadiums were to Pedro Martinez with the only thing missing from the raucous and embellishment-accepting Habs fans being the “Who’s Your Daddy?” chants to further rattle the King. But after Games 1 and 2 in Montreal, when Lundqvist gave up three goals combined, stopping 63 of 66 shots, (including 40 in Game 2), I thought he had finally overcome his Montreal letdowns. I thought he had silenced Habs fans the way he silenced all of his postseason critics when he put the Rangers on his back to overcome the 3-1 series deficit to the Penguins by winning Games 5 and 7 in Pittsburgh against the best offensive talent in the world and possibly the second-best offensive talent in the world. But maybe he didn’t and maybe I was wrong to think that because there was Lundqvist on Tuesday night in Montreal giving up goals that left Marc-Andre Fleury somewhere thinking, “Those aren’t that soft.”
I have never said anything negative about Lundqvist, at least not seriously. He’s in an elite class, in that sense, with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and post-Super Bowl XLII Eli Manning. When I tell anyone that, the first thing they say is that the other three have won, and I’m always quick to say, “They didn’t win by themselves,” and Lundqvist won’t ever win by himself either even as much as the anti-Lundqvist club wants to believe he should somehow help provide more offense to give the Rangers a better chance to win.
I fully believe Lundqvist has been as good as he could be or any goalie could ever be for the Rangers teams that have been constructed during his career since 2005-06. And I fully believe Lundqvist has been as good as he could be or any goalie could be in the eight postseasons the team has played in since 2005-06 (this one included). He has been the face of the franchise, the backbone of the organization and the sole reason for any success over the last nine seasons and with or without a Cup to this point doesn’t change the goalie he has been for the teams he has been dealt.
Lundqvist wasn’t himself in Game 5 and proved Eddie Olczyk’s theory wrong that the Rangers would never lose a playoff game in which they score four goals because of Henrik Lundqvist, and neither was the rest of the team. (Well, maybe Dan Girardi was himself because he was having himself a nice Sunday Skate while the Canadiens were hanging around in the slot as if they were playing “Rebound.”) But no 7-4 loss, no three-goal loss can be blamed on one player or the goalie, even if that goalie is the best in the world. But as will be the case in the aftermath of the Rangers’ first missed opportunity to win the Eastern Conference, Lundqvist will be the center of the Rangers’ disappointment and will continue to be so for any failure until at least until he wins the Cup. And if you’ve paid attention to what’s happened in Boston over the last couple years, he will likely continue to be the center of any disappointment even if he can erase a 20-year drought because that’s what happens when expectations are created.
There’s not much to say about a 7-4 loss in which the Rangers scored four goals in Montreal and overcame a three-goal deficit to tie the game at 4 other than that it was a missed opportunity. Fortunately, the Rangers put themselves in a position to have three opportunities to put the Canadiens away and to put a Stanley Cup Final series back in New York for the first time in 20 years.
Game 6 will be different. It has to be different. The Rangers can’t get back on a plane to Montreal with another Game 7 looming and the Bell Centre awaiting them full of Habs fans who have been waiting for the Cup a year longer than Rangers fans. And Henrik Lundqvist can’t show up at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. King Henrik must show up.