Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
MONTREAL - Henrik Lundqvist made the skate of shame across the Bell Centre ice toward the visitors' dressing room tunnel midway through that mess of a Game 5. His teammates followed 31 minutes or so later after a 7-4 loss that could most charitably be described as a forgettable attempt to get to the Stanley Cup final.
Less charitably, this was an ugly, ugly night for the Rangers, who spoke earnestly and openly about seizing the chance that they let slip away two springs ago. Lundqvist and 10 other Rangers are holdovers from that team, one that took a 2-1 series lead on the Devils and watched a chance to get to the Cup Final fizzle away in a mess of mistakes.
Lundqvist spoke about that opportunity missed after he stole Game 2 here a little over a week ago.
"You don't want to sit at the end of the year and feel like you had more to give," Lundqvist said last week. "That's what I felt a little bit the last time we were in the conference final. We didn't reach our full potential, and it was extremely disappointing to end the season like that. If you go out and you play your absolute best and it's not enough, it's easier to accept. It's still tough, but at least you want to feel like you left it all out there because you don't get that many chances."
Ryan McDonagh said the entire Rangers team talked about that topic before this series began, even the half that wasn't around in 2012. They have Martin St. Louis, whose leadership and mental fortitude can hardly be questioned these last three weeks.
But now, with Lundqvist chased Tuesday night, the questions will intensify. He has all the awards and accolades a goaltender could amass, but still not even a sniff of a Stanley Cup.
Let's be clear, Lundqvist wasn't the only one who choked this chance away Tuesday night, but when he isn't at his best, it shows more than it does on anyone else.
McDonagh said the Rangers who were there two years ago have something to draw upon now. "You have to draw on experiences," McDonagh said before Game 5. "You understand situations in this series differently because of that -- what a win early on can do, how to bounce back after a loss. Those are the things you have to reflect on. It's a lot more mental than physical right now. You know your body is going to be ready. It's more your [mental] approach to things on the ice."
Their mental approach to Game 5 didn't seem so sharp. John Moore will certainly miss at least Game 6 for his mindless hit on Dale Weise in the third period, but there were still other brain-dead plays earlier that helped turn this game in the Habs' favor.
Brad Richards said before Game 5 that he sensed a different approach this time around.
"It just has a different feel," he said. "Last time, I think was more testing the waters. Now it's a lot more belief and that's a big part of success this time of year. Guys are really recognizing how we've come together as a group, how close we are to having a chance to play for a Cup. It's just a different feel this time."
It didn't look that way in Game 5. The Rangers still have the upper hand and can still say they've been the better team this series.
If they don't get their mental edge back, nothing else will matter too much.