‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has always been an immensely prideful character. Even in practice, he hates letting in goals.READ MORE: Fourth Stimulus Check: Is Another Relief Payment Coming Soon?
His blood must be boiling with desperation after a rare letdown in Game 5. The usually masterful Lundqvist surrendered four goals on the 19 shots he faced in Tuesday’s 7-4 defeat to the Canadiens, as he was replaced before the midway point of the second period.
Lundqvist is the sort of individual who takes losses personally, often to the point that he places too much blame on himself. He’s constantly self-critiquing, always searching for a higher competitive gear and methods to fine-tune his game.
Earlier this series, the netminder said that his main desire this playoffs is to summon every ounce of might from his quick-twitch appendages.
“When I kind of sit down and collect my thoughts, my goal here is to leave it all out there,” Lundqvist said. “If it’s going to be enough, we’ll see.”
The King never rests easy on his throne, especially when he has a bad taste in his mouth following an uncharacteristically subpar performance.
“I think you guys all see how competitive he is, and that’s not going to sit well,” Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards said. “Even when he plays good, he’s focused. I would imagine we’re going to see one of his better performances, especially going back to his crowd and wanting to rebound from that. It’s not something we’ll have to worry about. We always know he’ll regroup.”
Having collected a Game 5 hat-trick, Canadiens winger Rene Bourque made some rather pointed remarks in an obvious attempt to rattle Lundqvist ahead of Game 6.
“Everybody talks about how he is a great goalie,” Bourque pondered. “Has he been better than (Tokarski) this series? I don’t think so.”
Bourque may have picked the wrong guy to mess with. The well-dressed and debonair Lundqvist is a casual figure away from the ice. But when Lundqvist stands between the pipes, he transforms into an entirely different persona. He becomes a fiercely intense animal, protective of his crease the way that a mother bird is protective of her young.
Remember back in January 2011 when Lundqvist unleashed the fury on Max Pacioretty after the Habs winger bowled him over? That’s the kind of possessed Lundqvist you’re going to likely see in Game 6. Mess with the bull – and you’ll get the horns.
Lundqvist and the Rangers cannot let this opportunity to close out the series on home ice slip through their fingers. They cannot allow to Eastern Conference finals to be extended to a seventh game at the raucous Bell Center.
“Playing in our building, obviously, we don’t want to come back here for a Game 7,” alternate captain Marc Staal said. “We want to have that desperation of a must-win game and bring it into our building and get a win.”
Montreal’s home-ice advantage is perhaps the strongest in the NHL, due to Habs fans’ incessant chanting that turns the building into a cauldron of noise.
Lundqvist’s numbers in elimination games are outstanding. The 32-year-old is 10-2 in his past 12 games when facing elimination. In six career Game 7 appearances, Lundqvist is 5-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage with one shutout. Despite these mind-blowingly superb statistics, a potential Game 7 at Bell Center would be the toughest challenge of his distinguished nine-year career.
Nervous Rangers fans are hoping this series won’t come down to a “win or go home” scenario in Montreal. A motivated King Henrik will be protecting Madison Square Garden, and it’s difficult to imagine the raw Dustin Tokarski out-dueling him in Game 6.
MOORE SUSPENDED TWO GAMES; WILL MISS REMAINDER OF SERIESREAD MORE: New York Relaxes Most COVID-19 Restrictions After Reaching 70% Vaccination Rate; Cuomo: 'A Momentous Day'
The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Wednesday afternoon that defenseman John Moore has been suspended two games for an “illegal check to the head of Canadiens forward Dale Weise” during Game 5. Moore’s high, blindside hit on Weise mirrored Brandon Prust’s jaw-fracturing check on Derek Stepan in Game 3. Prust also received a two-game ban.
In the league’s explanation video, Moore is judged to “drive up and into Weise, delivering a hit that makes his head the main point of contact.”
“The time between (Weise’s) release of the puck and the moment of contact is within established NHL standards,” NHL Department of Safety video narrator Patrick Burke said. “The onus is entirely upon Moore to ensure that he makes a full-body check that does not make Weise’s head the main point of contact.”
Moore is ineligible to play for the remainder of the series. Should the Rangers win Game 6, he would be forced to miss the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final. Twenty-eight-year-old defenseman Raphael Diaz is the obvious candidate to fill in during Moore’s absence.
Following Game 5, Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said that team doctors cleared Weise to return to the game.
“He went to the quiet room and saw a doctor and they felt that he was good to go,” Therrien said.
Weise appeared noticeably dazed when he returned to the ice after being checked out by doctors. Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports Montreal reported on Wednesday evening that Weise suffered a concussion as a result of the hit.
Following the completion of his two-game suspension, Prust is available to replace Weise in Game 6.
CARCILLO’S 10-GAME SUSPENSION APPEAL SET FOR FRIDAY
On Wednesday, the NHLPA announced that winger Dan Carcillo will have his appeal of a 10-game suspension heard by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday morning. Having made physical contract with linesman Scott Driscoll in Game 3, Carcillo incurred an automatic 10-game suspension. Carcillo was assessed a game misconduct penalty under Rule 40.3 Physical Abuse of Officials — Category II.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault criticized the way Driscoll handled the incident, but also hinted that Carcillo may have some career troubles due to his tendency to receive lengthy suspensions.
“At the end of the day if the right call is made on the ice, that whole situation doesn’t happen,” Vigneault said on Saturday. “Dan didn’t have a penalty on that play. There was no penalty there. I still don’t understand why Scott grabbed him in that fashion. All Scott had to do was tell him he had a penalty; Dan didn’t know he had a penalty. Just can you come to the box with me? Here, you have a penalty, and it would have been over. In that split moment of grabbing him like that, obviously, it’s inexcusable what Dan did, but those situations or incidences put one after the other leads to a young gentleman’s career moving forward might be very tough here.”
According to the official NHL rulebook, a Category II appeal means that Carcillo will appear in person in New York City to meet with Bettman. Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, Carcillo has in all likelihood played his final game as a Ranger. Agitating wingers like Carcillo are a dime a dozen, and he has endured a history of injuries.
The 29-year-old winger was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on January 4 for a conditional seven-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. He was originally brought in as a short-term replacement for injured winger Derek Dorsett, who was unavailable due to a broken fibula. To his credit, Carcillo fought Dorsett hard for playing time and became a celebrated role player amongst Rangers fans due to his in-your-face style and goal-scoring heroics earlier this playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Carcillo is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. Few teams will be willing to take a gamble on an easily replaceable player, who has a history of injuries and suspensions.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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