By Filip Bondy
Forty-nine saves over more than 92 minutes and this is what Henrik Lundqvist got for it. The puck was basically stolen from him by his own teammate, Marian Gaborik, hurtling back clumsily on defense. Then it was hitting Jason Chimera in the chest and rolling behind the goalie onto the stick of Chimera in front of an empty Ranger net for the game winner.
How fair is that? Lundqvist had fought cramps, dehydration, fatigue, a veritable siege from Washington's mighty forwards. And it was all gone with one messy clearance, a miscommunication and a flick of Chimera's stick. Game 4, which had belonged so definitively to the Rangers, was now an aching memory, a 4-3 loss in double overtime and a 3-1 series lead for the Caps.
"A nothing play that turned into something big," was the way John Tortorella would describe the misplay.
Huge, and utterly demoralizing.
Standing in front of his locker, Lundqvist looked drawn, drained, spent. Nobody could have done more to rescue his team. The goalie even stopped Alex Ovechkin, glove-side, on a clean breakaway in the first overtime period.
Still, it wasn't enough to turn back the onslaught from the Caps, or the collapse by his own teammates. The Rangers had a three-goal lead and the world at their skates Wednesday night, 20 minutes to play in regulation. They let it all fall apart for them in an untidy heap.
"We had a tough time getting pucks out and paid for it," Lundqvist said. "They're a dangerous team and can make some plays. We tried to regroup after the third period. It was so frustrating tonight. Right now, it's painful."
The whole series spun out, careened and crashed in that rapid-fire third period, when the Capitals finally remembered they are the uber-talented No. 1 seed in the East facing an opponent that wasn't eligible for the postseason until Tampa Bay beat Carolina. You can only pull the jersey over their eyes for so long.
The unraveling happened so fast, it left the Garden fans reeling, silent and familiarly disheartened. One instant the Rangers held a safe three-goal bulge and the fans were happily taunting Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau with, "Can you hear us?" Mere minutes later, Washington was lighting the goal lamp as if it were the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Everybody knows the Capitals have the offensive stars to strike swiftly. Their shots have sting, and Ovechkin is a hulking, speeding menace. Yet the Rangers had held their own for most of two home games, neutralized Ovechkin, and seemed to have matters in hand.
Washington has more than one big horse, however, and came storming back at the start of the third period, pouring shots on goal until Alexander Semin scored at 2:47 and Marcus Johansson struck almost immediately after at 3:44.
There were loose pucks, missed assignments. Tortorella called a smart timeout immediately, tried to calm things down. But by then the Rangers were very much back on their heels and the Caps smelled panic. Washington buzzed relentlessly around Lundqvist until Johansson scored the tying goal at 12:07 from in front of the net.
Matters appeared fairly hopeless at this juncture, as the game headed into overtime. The Caps continued to carry play, cycling perilously inside the Ranger zone. The Rangers hung in there by a thread. They dumped the puck. They backchecked. They waited for something good or bad to happen to them.
The game went on like this, with the Caps looking very much like a team that would leave the Garden with a decisive victory. In the end, they did. One more Ranger mistake, and it was over.
Poor Gaborik had nearly been a hero, before he became the go-to goat. It had been a full month since the team's designated scorer had scored a goal for the Rangers - an astounding drought for the $7.5-million-per-year right wing who had amassed 42 goals during the 2009-10 season.
Then in the second period Gaborik waited by the crease, took a pretty backhand pass from Ruslan Fedotenko and deposited it into the net for a two-goal lead at 13:40.
Fate would not leave it at that. Gaborik was last spotted knocking a puck into Chimera that he should have allowed Lundqvist to handle.
"We'll be fine," Tortorella insisted.
Lundqvist only knew he'd have trouble sleeping Wednesday night.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/hockey/rangers/2011/04/21/2011-04-21_loud_beginning_eventually_becomes_a_very_quiet_ending.html#ixzz1KCQEAq8I