OTTAWA — They always say that goaltending is the loneliest position in hockey, if not in all of sports. That is especially the case, as Henrik Lundqvist exasperatingly experienced Thursday night, when Lady Luck completely deserts you.
Lundqvist played well enough to be the first star of the first game of this series against the Senators. He made 21 saves in the first period, a record for him in any playoff period on a record number of shots by Ottawa. He was outstanding, stellar, almost flawless after that, too.
Then a quirk of fate turned the Rangers goalie’s excellent night into a defeat.
“Well, that’s the life of a goalie,” Lundqvist, who made 41 saves, said after the 2-1 defeat on a shot from a seemingly impossible angle by countryman Erik Karlsson late in the third period. “You make 100 decisions, 150, 200 . . . a lot of decisions throughout a game. You play your game, do the right thing. It comes down to one play and you don’t see the puck. You wait for it instead of being a little bit more active. That’s the one play you get questions for. That’s how it goes.”
He was mystified at how the shot from the right corner, just about on the goal line, squeaked through. It was nothing compared to the play Lundqvist had made in diving to his left and stoning Mark Stone in the first period. It was child’s play as opposed to the point-blank shot from Ryan Dzingel in the third. It was not even as tough as the challenge presented by an inadvertent “shot” by teammate Brady Skjei on a pass in the second.
“There were three guys in line with the puck and I didn’t pick it up. It hit me in the head and it went in,” Lundqvist said. “I assumed that with that many guys right in line with the puck it would not end up right in front of me but it did.”
People involved in all levels of the sport are philosophical. When something unique — and usually uniquely bad — happens, they simply shrug and say, “That’s hockey.” That is pretty much what Lundqvist did. He was not banging his fist against the wall or throwing his equipment. He did say something to the effect of “It stinks,” only a little stronger. He knows it comes with the territory.
It was a cautionary note for the Rangers, who recognize that the best goalie usually wins and they have arguably the best goalie left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But this is what happens when you allow the opposition to stay close. Chance can have its say.
“He played incredible,” Senators goalie Craig Anderson said, after having played a standout game of his own. “We got a lucky bounce.” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said, “I think both goalies played very well. They carried their teams.”
Karlsson knows Lundqvist as well as anyone, having played with him for Sweden in international competition. Thursday morning, he had said the key to defeating his friend was, “Putting a lot of pucks in there, making it tough on him. The more pucks he sees the easier it’s going to be.” Volume did not seem to bother Lundqvist in the first period, but maybe Karlsson had a point. The more shots you fire, the better the chance that fortune can grab hold of one of them.
For the record, Senators coach Guy Boucher was the one person not at all stunned to see that puck go in from such a weird angle. In his view, it was Karlsson being Karlsson. “I’m not surprised by anything he does. This is what great players do. They come up with stuff at the right time,” he said.
Then again, Lundqvist is one of the best of his era. The right stuff just wasn’t good enough this time. He said, “It’s tough to lose like this. Just a nothing play.”