The Rangers’ best-case playoff narrative went something like this: Aging, much-loved star goaltender mounts one last dramatic run at the Stanley Cup at age 35, shining when it counts most after a lackluster regular season.
Instead, what we have a mere three games into the story is only half of it coming true.
Henrik Lundqvist is doing his part, playing well enough to win every night and looking very much the King Henrik who has been the Rangers’ centerpiece for more than a decade.
Trouble is, his teammates have not come along for the ride. So it was Sunday night that Lundqvist found himself sitting at his locker trying to put into perspective a miserable 3-1 loss to the Canadiens and a 2-1 first-round playoff series deficit.
“We just have to give more — at home, playoffs — or we’re not going to win,” he said. “We need more, simple as that.”
That is an understatement. On offense, the Rangers were in a daze, giving fans at the Garden little reason to make the sort of noise for which their Bell Centre counterparts in Montreal have gotten so much credit.
They had 12 shots on goal through two periods and did not score until less than three minutes remained. The Canadiens’ Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the world, but he barely got any exercise.
“Right now, we’re just getting caught too much on the outside,” Marc Staal said. “We’re not getting in the middle of the ice. We’re not creating any havoc in front or creating any screens or anything like that.”
The Rangers undercut Lundqvist’s strong early play with two ill-advised penalties that led to power-play goals on which he had little chance.
The first was a penalty on J.T. Miller for directing the puck with his hand on a faceoff. The second was a slightly less moronic double-minor on Mats Zuccarello for high-sticking the Canadiens’ Andrei Markov.
“Obviously, there were a couple of tough penalties that cost us,” Lundqvist said. Obviously.
The Rangers now have a six-game home playoff losing streak across three springs in which they have been outscored 21-4.
That’s hard to fathom. But the fact that the slide continued Sunday night was not, given how poorly the Rangers often played at the Garden this season.
That 2-0 victory in Game 1 is ancient history now. The Rangers promised to bounce back from a Game 2 loss in which they were less than 18 seconds from winning, then laid an Easter egg instead. “We all need to be better,” Lundqvist said.
The first “Hen-rik” chant broke out not quite eight minutes into the game in a first period mostly controlled by the Canadiens, who peppered Lund qvist with scoring opportunities.
Within a minute or so, he made big stops on Max Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Dwight King. After the last of them, he clearly expressed just how frustrated he was becoming.
The second period was more of the same, with the Rangers’ offense sputtering and the defense relying on Lundqvist to keep it scoreless. At one point, the shots on goal were 16-8 in the Canadiens’ favor.
“We’ll regroup and focus on the next game here [Tuesday night],” Lundqvist said. “I think we all feel like we can do better here at home.”
They had better, or he will be one year closer to solidifying his status as the Garden’s Patrick Ewing of the 21st century — a consistently excellent future Hall of Famer who never quite won the grand prize.
That would be a huge shame. And if this keeps up, the shame will be on the guys not wearing goalie skates.