Hank got the yank Tuesday night after being beaten three times as clean as his coach finally came yesterday about why he did it.
"[Henrik Lundqvist] gave up three goals in six scoring chances, two of them at bad angles," John Tortorella said. "After the [2-2] first period, I said, 'You know what, he deserves to try to battle through this.' [But] I just didn't think he was sharp.
"We felt at that point of time Alex Auld would give us the best chance."
Just one more loss, and it's "Auld Lang Syne" to the postseason for the Rangers after four consecutive appearances, no time for failure by a world-class goalie whose play all season has been begging for teammates to rise to his level.
One of only three points the Rangers have failed to win during a 6-1-1 surge slipped away when Lundqvist let in a goal from behind the goal line late in the third period in Toronto. The other two points, Tuesday night in Buffalo, were being lost as Tortorella applied the hook.
It was partly, he conceded, to save Lundqvist's body for an elimination game 23 hours later. Tortorella also did it because he didn't have to worry about saving Lundqvist's psyche.
"I know Hank can handle that," said Tortorella. "Look, we're not getting in without Hank."
The Rangers took it to the final weekend with a perfunctory 5-1 win over the conference bottom-feeding Maple Leafs, who, overwhelmed during a three-goal Rangers first period, eventually worked up a sweat only in the offensive end. They didn't have dead-on chances but several potential killers, including their goal by Dion Phaneuf, came through screens.
"A big part of the game was trying to find the puck," Lundqvist said. "And he saw almost everything as clearly as he did the big picture from the bench in Buffalo.
"I could have stopped some of those goals, sure, but I don't think I played bad," he said. "I was surprised, sure, but I just have to deal with it.
"It's part of being a goalie. Sometimes you don't agree with getting pulled, but it really doesn't matter in the end. It's John's decision and I just have to deal with it. It's important to me to let it go.
"I had time during the game to think about that game. When we left the rink I started to think about this game. I was pretty determined."
The Rangers haven't always been as determined as their goalie this season. When they left for their six-game trip, Lundqvist knew he would go down fighting, but last night he admitted to being certain he was going down regardless.
"A couple weeks ago I thought we were out," he said. "So it's fun to be here. We never gave up and we're back in the race."
That race is three horses for two places, but the Rangers don't have to worry about Boston getting only one point in their three remaining games if they win both games this weekend against a Philadelphia team that, playing with a third-string goalie and without leading goal scorer Jeff Carter, also believes it has gotten its act together in the nick of time.
"We know we have to win both, but it's one at a time," said Lundqvist.
And if it gets down to just one, who would you want in your net in that one: Brian Boucher or Henrik Lundqvist?
Of all the questions asked about the Rangers' ability to pull this off, that one is ridiculous.
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