Let’s face it: the Rangers just didn’t have it last night. Game 4’s are usually the most important games in evenly matched series, with the difference between a 2-2 tie and a 3-1 advantage being almost too big for words. And despite leading all three of their playoff series so far by a 2-1 margin going into game 4, the Rangers have failed to take that 3-1 lead once, losing 3-2 in both their first two game 4’s and 4-1 last night.
For whatever reason, the Rangers have continued to make things close, providing far more nail-biting action and suspense than the NBA’s one-seeded Spurs (8-0 through two rounds) or even the eighth-seeded Kings (11-2 going into tonight’s game 5).
Things aren’t usually supposed to be this way when a team wins over 50 games in the regular season – don’t tell that to Vancouver fans, of course. And to make matters worse, the Rangers have had a sort of red carpet rolled out for them on their quest towards cup #5. If the Kings and Rangers both advance to the Finals, the Rangers would be the first team in the history of the NHL to go four rounds deep in the playoffs and never face a team seeded higher than 6th – now I didn’t backup this statistic with any research, but there’s just no way a team has ever had as easy a run on paper as the Rangers have this year: 8th seed in round 1, 7th seed in round 2, 6th seed in round 3, and possibly another 8th seed in round 4 = ridiculous!!
Last night, the team was flat on both sides of the ice. It looked like they were just hoping for the win to be handed to them, that Lundqvist would make all the necessary saves and at some point, the puck would trickle through Brodeur’s pads. Well the always dependable Marty was barely given a test, while the defense in front of Lundqvist failed on multiple occasions – failing to body up Salvador for the Devils’ first goal and leaving Girardi on the wrong end of a two-on-one to put Lundqvist in another difficult situation – cough, Del Zotto. Then throw in the mishap with Mike Rupp, who sucker-punched the widely respected Brodeur, and it’s clear that this game 4, like the previous two, was another example of the Rangers failing to be at their best.
But the NHL playoffs aren’t single-game elimination for a reason. And here are the numbers that have keyed the Rangers run so far:
4 – The amount of goals allowed by Lundqvist in playoff elimination games this year.
72 – The amount of saves made by Lundqvist in such games.
3-0 – The Rangers record when facing elimination.
The fact of the matter is that when the Rangers offense and defense has been taking care of their duties, Lundqvist has risen to the occasion and refused opposing teams the opportunity to end New York’s playoff run.
While Rangers fans would surely like to see a bit more consistency from their team, what really matters most is what happens in the end. For opposing teams, that means defeating Lundqvist after already taking three games in the series – not a task that any team should feel confident about.
He’s not unbeatable, and it’s possible for goalies like Brodeur and Quick to play every bit his equal, but as long as he’s given adequate support, the Rangers have to like their chances of being the last team standing.