Henrik Lundqvist confirmed tonight what many people already believe – that he is the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. After giving up the lead late before allowing Chris Neil’s winning goal 1:17 into overtime in Game 2, Lundqvist came out in Ottawa and stoned the Senators to the tune of 39 saves and the first star of the game honors.
Not to be outdone, Brian Boyle scored his third goal in three games in the playoffs. Boyle continued his strong two way play despite being booed every time he touched the puck tonight.
“Honestly it was a surprise.” Boyle continued, “But if I’m the villain to them, that’s good.”
If Boyle is the villain in Ottawa, than he’s every bit as much the hero in New York. After arriving in New York in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 2009, Boyle struggled to make his mark, scoring only six points in 71 games. The next summer, Boyle recommitted himself to his game, while John Tortorella decided in his mind that Boyle would be ticketed for the AHL. He refused to be unnoticed in training camp, earned a roster spot, and put up a career-best 21 goals and 35 points while becoming a top penalty killer and defensive center.
While the scoring wasn’t always there this season, Boyle improved his face-offs and remained the top defensive forward on the team. The same shots that found a way in last season had found a way to stay out this season. However, the last nine games of the season saw Boyle heat up and score five goals over that span.
His hard work finally began to pay off, and has continued thus far into the playoffs, and his efforts all over the ice have not gone unnoticed.
“A lot of us can start following his lead,” Tortorella said. “That’s what he’s doing now. Leading.”
The tell tale sign that Boyle has been doing things the ‘Ranger way’ could be seen on his goal. Boyle was heading toward the side wall when the puck was rimmed around the corner and up towards the point. As soon as Boyle noticed the puck would be past him, he turns around and heads right to the front of the net, and got a fortunate bounce off a Dan Girardi point shot and roofed the puck over Craig Anderson on the backhand.
Not every hockey player is willing to get to the dirty areas of the ice like the front of the net, but Boyle is. The fruit of his labor can be seen on the scoreboard.
“He’s just playing like a man out there. He’s a big guy, he’s getting on the forecheck, he’s hanging onto pucks, and he’s put some big goals in the net for us,” said Girardi.
For the most part, the Rangers stars up front have been kept quiet, and if not for the secondary scoring that all teams need, this series could be different.
One thing that is never different about this Rangers team is the attention to detail. You could see it tonight, after Erik Karlsson skated circles around them Saturday night, with a goal and 10 shots, the Rangers forwards stayed close to him. While still giving having five shots on goal, Karlsson stayed off the scoresheet, like every other Senator, thanks in part to Lundqvist.
Lundqvist battled through screens all night, and stood tall against Ottawa’s chances that came from their lateral movement with the puck.
“I felt like we did a really good job. Trying to keep them to the outside, and making very good decisions out there with the puck. And you need to against this team,” said Lundqvist. “Halfway through I had a feeling the next goal was going to be huge.”
Confidence is key for goaltenders, and few are more intense than Lundqvist. “I was still upset after the last game, the way we let it slip away. Going into this one I was really…determined.”
Lundqvist made big save after big save tonight, but none bigger than one on a tip by Kyle Turris with just under minute to play in the game.
All in all, Lundqvist came away with his fourth career playoff shutout after amassing eight in the regular season.
And on a night that saw big performances from several of the Rangers’ veteran players, Chris Kreider, the rookie winger who signed his first professional contract last week after winning the National Championship as part of the Boston College hockey program. Kreider, instructed to specifically watch and take notes on Carl Hagelin’s game, took the spot of the suspended winger on the top line aside Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards.
Kreider, who played 11:11, all at even strength, and had a decent scoring chance in the second, was replaced on the top line by Derek Stepan late in the game, because Tortorella wanted him to observe what the Rangers were trying to get accomplished. “It’s a hell of a spot we’re putting the kid in…there are things he needs to work on…I’m really happy the way he played.”
Kreider, who’s blazing speed and skill alone were enough in college, knows things in the NHL are different. “What it takes at this level…it’s a winning brand of hockey.” If Kreider continues to play well, when Hagelin returns to the lineup, it would be hard to take Kreider out, so players such as John Mitchell may want to up their game moving forward.
After the Rangers won Game 1, Ottawa came out hard and won Game 2. Tonight, one bounce for Ottawa and the 1-0 decision could have been in favor of the Sens. It will surely be interesting to see how Ottawa responds Wednesday, and how the Rangers handle their second lead of the series. If Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa’s captain on and off the ice, returns from the concussion he received from Carl Hagelin’s elbow, it may be the inspirational lift the Senators need, and the Rangers need to be prepared.
Both teams are still waiting for their guns on offense to wake up. If it happens for either the Senators or Rangers, the opposing team could be in trouble. The Rangers will need to stick to their game, and hope it’s their stars that shine brighter in game four and beyond.
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