By: Michael Abitabilo
After a 2-1 loss in game three Tuesday night, the New York Rangers find themselves on the brink of elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Before the series began, I repeatedly told those who asked that I thought the series came down to goaltending. That wasn’t to suggest that the teams were equal, and that the only difference was between the pipes. What I was implying was that the Rangers would need Henrik Lundqvist to be vastly superior to his Boston counterpart, Tuukka Rask, to overcome any disparity in skill and depth. Through three games, he hasn’t been, and the Rangers now find themselves one loss away from the offseason.
In games one and two, Lundqvist was steady for the most part, but let in a few uncharacteristically soft goals. His eight goals allowed in that span certainly made him seem less invincible (or is it more vincible?) than he had been after posting back-to-back shutouts in games six and seven of round one. Combine that with the way the Rangers’ offense had (not) been going in games one and two, and it was clear the Rangers needed one of those out-of-this-world Lundqvist performances in game three – you know, one of those 48-save shutouts that has a carry-over effect on the collective psyche of the opposing team’s players.
At the outset of the game, it seemed we might be in store for one of those nights. Lundqvist stopped two breakaways in the first period and reminded everyone why he was getting all that “Best Goalie in the World” love about 10 days ago. Ultimately, though, Lundqvist allowed two third-period goals to the Bruins’ fourth line – both the result of a couple of old hockey clichés: relentless forechecking, bodies in front, and pucks to the net.
Lundqvist was better than Rask in game three, but his Rangers teammates rendered the King’s efforts moot with an uninspired performance reminiscent of a team that believes its season is about to end. Rask was able to relax for large chunks of time, and that’s not an overstatement – the Rangers went nearly 10 minutes in the second period without a shot on goal.
At this point, the difference in the series is no longer between the pipes. My pre-series assessment presupposed the Rangers and Bruins would both grind and battle until the final whistle of the final game. After all, that has been a primary component of both teams’ identities for the past few years. The Rangers, though, have been out-muscled and, worse yet, out-hustled for the vast majority of the series. As long as that is the case, not even the Best Goalie in the World can save them.
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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and is proud that he used his laptop to write this piece after game three instead of throwing it through a window.