During his Stanley Cup Conference Semifinal series against the Washington Capitals, Henrik Lundqvist allowed 12 goals over seven games. In the ongoing Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he’s already let in 13 goals in just three games. So, what gives? Should Lundqvist start Game 4 on Friday?
That question was posed by Larry Brooks of the New York Post to New York Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault who laughed and responded to Brooks with “was that a question?” followed by a “yes.”
Well, it sounds to me like it was a valid question to ask, especially when one considers that the “King” has allowed five or more goals against the Lightning in four of his six starts against them since October. That gives him an un-King-like 4.75 GAA and an.840 save percentage against Tampa Bay this term. By the way, his combined career postseason GAA is 2.23 while his postseason average save percentage is .923.
After the Rangers’ 6-5 overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 3, Lundqvist was second-guessing his approach to the game, telling reporters that he had doubts about his own decision-making because of his opponents’ ability to get the puck on goal by finding openings and utilizing their tremendous speed. In particular, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat were all giving Lundqvist fits over the last two games. The Rangers lost 6-2 to the Lightning in Game 2.
“It’s really challenging for me the way they move the puck, the way they find open ice in the slot, and scoring chances right in front,” is how Lundqvist put it. “I just need to dig deep here to try to be more consistent with my game plan.”
Time to Replace Lundqvist with Talbot?
He has one more game (Friday’s Game 4) to become more consistent or Vigneault – despite his direct response to Brooks’ question – may need to turn to backup goalie Cam Talbot.
Talbot was phenomenal during his stand-in stint for Lundqvist when the latter was injured during the regular season. Talbot went 21-9-4 over his 34 starts and tallied a GAA of 2.21 with five shutouts. However, Talbot has no playoff experience to turn to and that may keep Lundqvist in goal no matter what happens in Game 4.
Goaltenders are a unique breed. Lundqvist is one of the best in the world, but for some reason he prefers to torment the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins while falling to self-doubt against the Tampa Bay Lightning. For his part though, Lundqvist is still optimistic about Game 4 Friday.
“When you give up 12 goals in two games, of course you’re going to question some things,” said Lundqvist. “But I’m confident in the team and in myself.” And Talbot is standing by his colleague between the pipes 100 percent:
“I think he’s just taking it in stride,” Talbot told reporters Friday morning. “He’s a professional. He’s obviously frustrated, but we’re all frustrated right now. When you have back-to-back outings like we did and you give up 12 goals in two games, it’s easy to question some things. But we never really get too high or get too low. We have to focus on us and try to come out tonight and play our game and try to get them off their game.”
Vigneault reiterated his support for Lundqvist Friday morning. “He’s very focused right now, focused on the right things, and he’s going to go out and play really well tonight.”
Let’s hope so. I wouldn’t want to be Vigneault after Game 4 if Lundqvist lays a third egg in a row.