It’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2014. The New York Rangers have a 3-1 series lead moving into the Bell Centre in Montreal and can close out the series to clinch a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.
Except, this game didn’t go according to plan for the Blueshirts. Alex Galchenyuk opened up the scoring early in the first period. Derek Stepan, who had broken his jaw and had surgery on it only four days earlier, tied the score later that period.
Three unanswered goals later though, the Rangers chances of closing the series out quickly diminished, as starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was pulled after allowing four goals mid-way through the second.
But the Rangers weren’t done, as they rebounded with three straight goals in the second from Rick Nash, Stepan, and Chris Kreider. Still, it wasn’t enough as Montreal answered with three more goals to force a Game 6 and a chance to tie the series up at Madison Square Garden.
Lundqvist took the onus for his play and acknowledged how their game has to change before Game 6, “The bottom line is I think all of us have to be better, starting with me. As a group we have to come back with a better performance. I know there’s a lot of focus on me, but I think we all have to step up here.”
Three of Montreal’s goals in Game 5 were scored by winger Rene Bourque – one against Lundqvist and two against Cam Talbot. Even though Bourque only got one past Lundqvist, he critiqued the perception of the goaltender known as The King, “Everybody talks about how he is a great goalie. Has he been better than [Tokarski] this series? I don’t think so.”
It’s not to say that Dustin Tokarski wasn’t strong for the Canadiens throughout that playoff series, but it’s a criticism of Lundqvist that ignores the stellar play that had carried the Rangers that deep into the playoffs up to that game.
Goaltending is very much a mental game and most goaltenders handle their losses, especially one as deflating as Game 5, differently. This is something that probably should have been recognized before making those belittling remarks – as they likely didn’t fall on deaf ears, as evidenced by Lundqvist’s exceptional Game 6. Rather, it may have fueled and motivated him even more to rebound.
In Game 6, Lundqvist was the game-changer that brought the Rangers to victory and the Stanley Cup Final stopping all 18 shots he faced and shutting out the Canadiens to end their season. His elevated game included some highlight reel saves, like one this one against Thomas Vanek that Kevin noted a few days ago as a career-defining moment.
Not only was this victory a bounce-back effort after a loss that garnered criticism from Game 5’s hat trick scoring Bourque, but it was a career-milestone for Lundqvist as he advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. This win only solidified Lundqvist’s place as the Rangers’ backbone, as his game-changing 1-0 shutout propelled the Blueshirts to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994.