Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rangers Chances At Upset Hinge On Lundqvist

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
There will be lots of different keys to the Eastern Conference Quaterfinals between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, but none are bigger for the Rangers to have a chance than Henrik Lundqvist.  Calling Lundqvist the key to the Rangers success is nothing new for him or them, but it holds true once again.  He is the only Rangers player with the capability of stealing a series and in order for the team to do just that he will likely have to steal at least one if not two games in the seven game set.
The Rangers have no idea which version of their offense will show up from night to night, but they can take comfort in the fact that they know their world class goaltender always does.  The Rangers made the postseason by two points on the final day of the season.  The only reason they had a chance to get help from the Lightning was because Lundqvist went 11-4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and three shutouts in his team's final 16 games. Having played in 26 straight games there is concern over fatigue for Lundqvist, but he has shown no signs of it to this point and cannot if the Rangers are to continue their season. 
Lundqvist went 2-1 in three starts against the Capitals, posting a 1.34 goals against average and .955 save percentage. Rangers fans have a lot of confidence from the two blowout wins in which the offense managed 13 goals, but lost in that is Lundqvist having shutout the Capitals in both of those games.  Lundqvist turned aside 66 consecutive shots in those final two games he played against the Capitals this year and helped to hold Alex Ovechkin without a goal against New York during the regular year.  It is unrealistic to expect that either of those two things continue in the playoffs, but it is not out of the question to expect Lundqvist to continue the form he had when he carried this team into position to make the playoffs.
The goaltending matchup is clearly the biggest advantage for the Rangers of any positional comparison and he has to take as much advantage of it as possible.  New York needs a full series from Lundqvist like he played the first four games of the 2009 matchup.  In those first four games Lundqvist stopped 141 of 149 shots and the Rangers were staked to a 3-1 lead before blowing the series.  Both Lundqvist and the team have a much different look and feel that says they will not blow that kind of advantage again.
If Henrik Lundqvist was not the best player of this series when it ends, then the Rangers are likely headed home.  He will certainly need help from his teammates both with scoring and protecting his net, but this team only goes as far as Lundqvist can carry them.