By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
It was inevitable that the rust would show when Henrik Lundqvist returned to action on Sunday after missing eight games due to a strained hip muscle.READ MORE: Harden's Triple-Double Helps Nets Top Murray, Spurs
While the Rangers’ 35-year-old franchise goaltender did not look like his typically assured self during the 6-3 defeat to the Anaheim Ducks, the five goals he surrendered on 33 shots were mostly a product of frequent missed coverages by teammates.
Following the defeat, head coach Alain Vigneault described many of the Rangers bringing their “C-game.” The Pacific Division-leading Ducks, who have now won six of their last seven, put the Blueshirts under all kinds of pressure, thanks to brute strength and heavy crease traffic.
It was always going to be a tough spot for Lundqvist to make his return against a big-bodied team that was coming in red hot, and it’s hard to point the finger directly at Lundqvist for any of the goals he surrendered, given how poorly the men in front of him defended.
Patrick Eaves drove to the Rangers’ net unmanned on Anaheim’s first goal of the night. Defenseman Nick Holden wasn’t playing Eaves tight enough and the 32-year-old winger zoomed to the crease and put away a rebound chance with ease. Later in opening period, Anaheim scored a contentious power-play goal on a Ryan Kesler high-sticked deflection. After review, the original on-ice call stood and the teams went into the intermission break knotted at 2. The Rangers’ goals came by virtue of Rick Nash’s fourth in four games and resurgent center Derek Stepan finishing off a fancy tic-tac-toe sequence.
Anaheim’s third goal was scored after Mika Zibanejad committed a back-pass turnover in the offensive zone. The ensuing a odd-man shorthanded rush culminated with Lundqvist being completely screened by Kesler on Josh Manson’s goal.READ MORE: NYPD Officer Jason Rivera Killed In Harlem Shooting, Another Fighting For His Life
The Ducks poured it on in a third period, breaking open a 3-3 tie. Mats Zuccarello missed his assignment on a defensive zone faceoff. Kesler shot the puck off the draw and Lundqvist made the initially save, but Zuccarello allowed Andrew Cogliano to slip in behind for the rebound.
Eaves would later add his second goal of the game and Nick Ritchie potted an empty-netter.
Though there were moments when Lundqvist wasn’t at his razor-sharp best, he made a collection of highlight-reel saves prior to the Ducks erupting over the final 20 minutes. Late in the first period, he made a point-blank glove stop on Anaheim’s leading goal scorer, Rickard Rakell. Early in the third, Lundqvist quickly moved across his crease, stretched out his right pad and denied Corey Perry.
If the 9 p.m. Eastern time start kept you from watching, you might peak over at the box score and arrive at the conclusion that Lundqvist had a rough night. His .848 save percentage is going to look ugly on paper, but it hardly tells the story of the Rangers’ futility in their own end and it masks the moments when Lundqvist did everything in his power to keep his team in the game.
This was by no means a vintage performance by No. 30, but it was enough of a platform for Lundqvist to build on with six games left before the playoffs.MORE NEWS: Sorokin, Nelson Lead Islanders To Win Over Coyotes
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey