GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP)—Henrik Lundqvist looked as calm and cool as possible, and had every reason to.
The Rangers goalie earned the right to relax after being the biggest factor in New York’s back-to-back road playoff wins that have put the Washington Capitals in big trouble in the first round.
Lundqvist took advantage of the team’s optional practice Sunday and dressed casually in a leather jacket. After stopping 67 of 70 shots—including 35 on Saturday in the Rangers’ 1-0 win in Game 2—who could blame him?
“A lot of teams try to put a lot of pucks on the net and try to create something from basically nothing—create rebounds or whatever,” Lundqvist said. “I am prepared for it and I don’t expect it to change the next couple of games.
“They’re going to try to play even better. I like the challenge facing one of the best teams in the East—a great offensive team. It’s fun.”
Staring down the NHL’s leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin, and Washington’s other offensive stars such as Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, sure doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. Throw in Mike Green, the league leader in goals and points among defensemen in the regular season, and Lundqvist’s task seems even more daunting.
Yet, Ovechkin and Green haven’t scored a goal in the two games, and the series is shifting to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Monday. The Capitals have three goals, overall, only one at even strength.
Forget the Capitals’ goalie controversy, if the high-powered offense that produced 272 regular-season goals—the third most in the league—doesn’t click quickly, the Capitals’ No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference won’t mean a thing.
“I’m going through all the scoring chances,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We stopped at the net, we went to the net. They just do a great job of blocking shots and it’s hard to get pucks through. We’ll have to find different ways to score on these guys.”
The Rangers feel confident knowing that Lundqvist is behind him, but they have worked to make life easier for their goalie by blocking 50 shots in the series he didn’t have to worry about.
Lundqvist has appreciated the help. He isn’t concerned about a blocked shot going awry and caroming past him, because that risk is well worth it when Ovechkin and Semin are loading up for dangerous chances in the slot.
“We know we have to be aware of those guys when they’re on the ice, especially on their power play,” Lundqvist said. “It’s not going to change (Monday) or the next couple of games. We have to watch out. We know they’re going to come hard.”
Ovechkin also took a break Sunday before the Capitals left for New York. He didn’t skate and didn’t speak to reporters.
Last year, the Capitals made a stirring late-season run to win the Southeast Division and sneak into the playoffs. They were knocked out in the first round by Philadelphia and seemed to be on a mission this season to learn from that and stage a long run after coasting to a second straight division crown.
Now they aren’t guaranteed of playing another home game. They will need to take one of the next two in New York, where the Rangers won eight of their final nine to clinch the No. 7 seed in the East, to get the series back to D.C..
Of the 291 previous NHL playoffs series that started 2-0, 37 teams have come back from that deficit to win (12.7 percent). The Rangers have blown only one of those leads, and the Capitals have never recovered from such a hole.
“Yeah, we won two big games but we know they’re going to come back and they’re going to play better,” forward Markus Naslund said. “We have to play better. We know that we can and I expect us to do that, too.
“One goal is not going to cut it.”
Boudreau wouldn’t tip his hand as to which goalie would start Game 3. Jose Theodore surprisingly lost his spot after one game when he allowed four goals on 21 shots in the series-opening 4-3 defeat on Wednesday.
The Capitals turned to 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov on Saturday, and he did a fine job in his sixth NHL start and first in the playoffs. Ryan Callahan scored the lone goal 7:44 into the game on the Rangers’ second shot.
Varlamov finished with 23 saves and has an upper hand for Game 3.
“I didn’t see that coming, to be honest,” Theodore said of the benching. “One thing in my career that nobody can take away is that I am always a fighter and I always bounced back to big challenges. To me that was a big challenge, but I didn’t have the chance to bounce back because I didn’t play.
“It still could be a long series. … I’m going to work, be ready and be supportive of my teammates.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella said he is happy with the results, so far, but didn’t kid himself or his players that they have played perfect hockey.
After saying that the goalie is the most important position in all major sports, Tortorella took comfort in having Lundqvist—the one he considers the best in the NHL.
“The goaltender has more to say about winning or losing, than the starting pitcher, the point guard, whatever,” Tortorella said. “Your goaltender is your mind as a team. How he’s playing is how your team will react off of him.
“I like his fight. That’s important for his teammates to see.”
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