‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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For nine years, Henrik Lundqvist has been the Rangers’ knight in shining armor. Time after time, Lundqvist has done extraordinary things in net that have propelled ordinary Rangers teams toward higher aspirations.
After surrendering three goals to the visiting Blue Jackets and being chased from his net in the first period, the 31-year-old removed his mask and wasn’t flashing his trademark megawatt smile.
Lundqvist could barely bring himself to lift his head to respond to questions from the media. He wasn’t his usual, illuminating self. Instead, Lundqvist cut a sullen, downtrodden figure.
He admitted his confidence was at a low point.
“The biggest thing for me now is believing in what I do and staying confident,” Lundqvist said. “Confidence is such an important thing in this game, and right now it’s not very high.”
The Rangers have hit the skids in the midst of a franchise-record nine-game homestand that was supposed to be the point in which the Blueshirts rocketed themselves up the Metropolitan Division standings. Their 4-2 defeat to Columbus has dropped the Rangers to a disappointing 0-3-1 start on the homestand and 15-17-1 overall.
“Obviously where we are right now the starts are important, and me not coming up with the saves early, it’s hurting me and the team,” Lundqvist said. “You just have to go through it, I guess, but it’s definitely a test for your confidence to believe in what you do, and not start to do too much. You want to win more, sometimes you try too much instead of just sticking to what you need to do and keep it simple and just play your game.”
Always accountable, Lundqvist might be putting too much pressure on himself as the second Columbus goal was the result of a 3-on-1 rush and the third Blue Jackets goal deflected off teammate Michael Del Zotto.
Lundqvist said it himself. He needs to keep his game simple, not over think things and let his natural abilities take over.
His 9-14-1 record, inflated 2.71 goals-against average and .910 save percentage are far off his usual regular-season standards. That being said, Lundqvist’s sub par play is the least of the Rangers’ problems.
A virus of self-doubt has infected the entire locker room.
Center Derek Stepan described the Rangers’ current level of confidence as “fragile.”
“It’s fragile, it comes and goes,” Stepan said. “You have a good shift you get some confidence going, something happens it kind of sucks it out of you. We have to find a way to keep a level plane here, if that makes sense at all.”
Defenseman Dan Girardi understands this homestand was a great opportunity to get on the right foot and build momentum in the right direction.
“Being home for nine in a row, that was a chance for us to really propel ourselves up the standings and have the home crowd in front of you,” Girardi said.
Now, Girardi and the Rangers will have to do whatever possible to scrape together as many remaining points as possible before hitting the road on December 27.
“We have to figure out how to salvage the rest of the homestand here to bring us back to .500 or more at home,” Girardi said.
IT’S AN ‘ARTY PARTY’
Ex-Ranger Artem Anisimov marked his return to The Garden by scoring on the end a 3-on-1 rush that doubled the Blue Jackets’ first period lead to 2-0.
After the emotional game ended, Anisimov was relieved it was all over.
“I feel free. It’s something special to score here,” Anisimov said. “To come here in this building and score a goal. It’s a good memory.”
For Anisimov, scoring on former teammate Lundqvist will hold a special place in his career. Anisimov called Lundqvist “the best goalie in the world” following Thursday’s game.
“Of course, he’s the best goalie in the world,” Anisimov said. “It’s nice.”
Teammate and fellow former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky was even more relieved as he admitted that he “wasn’t even close to his best” in his Garden return: “I’m glad it’s over and happy my teammates picked me up and found a way to get a big win for me.”
Dubinsky thanked his teammates.
“Again, I’m really proud of my teammates tonight for picking me up and winning this one,” he said. “I wanted it bad, and I certainly wasn’t near my best. So, I’m thankful for that.”
All the relaxed smilies in the Blue Jackets locker room was a clear contrast to the gloomy feeling shared throughout the Rangers clubhouse.
The Rangers must find a way to rediscover their mental edge when the puck drops on Sunday when the Blueshirts attempt to douse the Calgary Flames at MSG.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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