The stars at night may be big and bright in Texas but, for one evening at least, the Dallas Stars glistened last night at The Garden.
Henrik Lundqvist did not.
Allowing seven goals over the first two periods — as Henrik did — was a prescription for defeat and a challenge to halt a disturbing negative trend.
In addition to The King’s issues, what also matters on Seventh Avenue — and among the Blueshirts high command — is what gives with Alain Vigneault‘s skaters currently on a three-game losing skid?
Among the galling aspects of New York’s 7-6 defeat was that the Stars have been in a deadly tailspin and rank among the Western Conference’s weaker teams. The Rangers enabled them to climb out of their losing funk.
Even more frustrating for their local rooters was the Rangers third-period comeback which reduced the count to 7-6.
From then on, it seemed as if the tying goal for New York would require just a matter of time; but that time never came.
After two periods during which Lundqvist allowed seven goals, Henny was pulled and backup Magnus Hellberg played the third period without allowing a score.
Now, it’s a matter for the Blueshirts’ Main Man finding his way out of this debilitating goaltending morass. It’s clear that The King is searching for answers.
“I have to work as hard as I can in practice,” said Lundqvist. “I need some momentum going my way. My only thinking is to focus on myself and try as hard as I can; be as good as I can; earning some bounces.”
Another cautionary point: The Rangers opponent tomorrow (Thursday) night will be the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. That’s the same speedy sextet that outscored the Blueshirts last Friday at The Garden.
OVERVIEW: Having built a formidable first-half cushion, the Rangers should have no worries about missing the post-season. That’s a given. But when the Seventh Avenue Skaters set a high standard, they want to maintain it whether it’s in the Autumn or Winter. Still, when Lundqvist, normally the club’s most consistently reliable player, implodes, the S.O.S must be sounded. Perhaps a comeback win in Toronto would be the best prescription for a turnaround.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- GOALTENDING: With Antti Raanta sidelined, the Rangers depend on Lundqvist. Unfortunately, he’s suffering one of the rare prolonged slumps of his illustrious career. The game was lost while he was guarding the twine in the first two frames.
- DEFENSE: Coach Alain Vigneault candidly pointed out that even when his back liners were in a position to blunt Dallas attacks, they failed to get their sticks on threatening passes that led to Stars goals. As a group, the New York blue-liners have been slipping.
- COMING UP SHORT: Weak in goal, the Stars began falling in the third period. When the Rangers made it a 7-6 game, the Blueshirts killer instinct stayed alive but the goal tank went empty.
- SECOND PERIOD MOMENTUM FAILURE: After Pavel Buchnevich scored in the second period to make the score 4-3 for Dallas, the tying goal seemed close behind and the crowd was buzzing for more momentum. Instead, the Stars Patrick Sharp beat Lundqvist to restore the two-goal lead and brake the Blueshirts comeback-ability.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- NO QUIT IN THE BLUESHIRTS: Seemingly there for a rout, the Rangers fought back tenaciously in the final frame. Reducing the count from 7-3 to 7-6 was a formidable achievement. Still down a goal, they pressed hard for the tying counter but it wasn’t to be had.
- RETURNING ACES: The long-awaited return of Mika Zibanejad finally happened. He responded with a pair of goals and appears primed for a strong second half. He centered a line with Rick Nash — very strong and determined — and Pavel Buchnevich. In the three games since rookie Pavel returned, he’s posted two goals and three assists.
- HIGH-STEPPING STEPAN: Ever reliable Derek Stepan tallied three points on two goals and an assist. He led all skaters with a single-game career high eight shots on goal in the third period.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- MSG NETWORKS’ STEVE VALIQUETTE: “I’m sure Henrik will find a way out of this. In front of him there was defensive miscue after Rangers defensive miscue.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ RON DUGUAY: “I’m not giving up on Lundqvist.”
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “It’s not good. We’ve got to find a way to come out with more intensity. We can’t be giving up Grade A chances like that. We’ve put Henrik in a bad spot and that’s not fair. Our next game (Thursday at Toronto) is our next focus.”
- HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “It’s embarrassing, frustrating and disappointing. Couple of missed plays in the first period and they made us pay. I have to find another level because this was not good enough. It’s hard because I’m trying to do the right things but they’re not working. A lot of the plays happened in front. My job is to give the club confidence.”
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “We have to do a better job in front of our net. We had players in front of our net but they did not take (the opposition) pass. Henrik will play in the next game. Hank wants to fight his way through this and we’ll work with him. He’s getting a lot of input from a lot of people. He’s a real professional and doing what a professional is supposed to do.”
- REPORTER PATRICK MCCORMACK: “The Rangers can score goals; now it’s time to improve the defense side. Defensive errors are putting the team in holes.”
- REPORTER DYLAN TURNER: “The three-goal third-period comeback should provide scoring confidence going into Thursday’s game with the potent Toronto attack.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Tomorrow (Thursday) at Toronto. Game Time, 7:30 p.m. TV, MSG Networks.
BOTTOM LINE: Vigneault says he’s starting Lundqvist against the Leafs. That means Henrik on the firing line must find a way out of his netminding funk. This is a riveting challenge and one the Blueshirts could do without. Conversely, a strong game and victory against thundering Toronto could prove the recipe for recovery.