Henrik Lundqvist yet to prove himself in playoffs

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Henrik Lundqvist yet to prove himself in playoffs

As good as he has been, as dominant as he has been, as absolutely overpowering as Henrik Lundqvist has been against the Flyers in particular, this could be the defining spring for him.
 
Only once in his past seven playoffs has Lundqvist been able to get the Rangers to an Eastern Conference finals.
 
Some observers think it has to change, and it begins in the opening round against the Flyers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
 
That Vezina Trophy that Lundqvist won in 2012 can’t erase the fact that he hasn’t been a clutch goalie in the playoffs, in which he's put up a 30-37 record. That's when reputations are forged in the NHL.
 
Gotta Cup?
 
Lundqvist said he’s come to realize postseason play is not assured anymore.
 
“You definitely don’t take it for granted,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “You have to earn it and you have to work really hard to get here, and for each round you appreciate every moment, I think. It’s part of getting older, too, realizing how lucky you are to be in that position.
 
“When I was younger I expected it a lot more. Coming here, I played a lot of finals back home, coming here, maybe it’s been a little bit of a different approach. But now I just look forward to the challenge. And try to win, that’s the ultimate goal now. I’m just really excited to get started.”
 
His coach, Alain Vigneault, believes pressure hones your skills. He had Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and saw firsthand: Luongo never won the so-called “big one.”
 
“Obviously, I believe having been in that situation before, playing in big pressure games should help a player,” Vigneault said. “In Hank’s case, he’s been through the biggest games possible except for the Stanley Cup finals.
 
“So he’s been waiting for this moment, I would say just like the rest of our team. We had to first get in, now we’re one of the 16 teams that has a chance for the Cup, and I would say all the teams have a chance at it and we’ve got to take it one game at a time. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
 
Assuming he plays, at the other end of the ice, Steve Mason has just four playoff games on his resume. All with Columbus. All in his rookie year. And all losses.
 
Lundqvist has played in 67 playoff games. He’s battle-tested.
 
“I don’t know if it’s a help,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you. Being younger, you look at the game differently, you learn from it every year and maybe I have a different approach now than when I was 20 or 23.
 
“But the emotions you feel during the game are pretty much the same. You’re nervous, you’re excited, and the highs and lows are incredible, actually, through the playoffs and the series. The way you feel, some days are tough and some days are unbelievable. When you’re winning big games at home, that’s probably the best feeling.”
 
Winning Game 1 is paramount for the Flyers, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Craig Berube’s players are highly cognizant of the fact they have not won at Madison Square Garden in three years (see story).
 
To lose another game would only greatly increase the pressure to absolutely win Game 2 or go home facing a possible sweep. The Flyers can’t afford that.
 
For the Rangers, to lose Game 1 would plant an element of doubt into a team that fought the Flyers tooth and nail down the stretch for second place in the Metro Division. They split the season series, 2-2.
 
“I don’t know how important it is,” Lundqvist said of Game 1. “I think we just want to go out and have a good start and not overthink it or put too much pressure on ourselves.
 
“It’s the first to four wins, it’s about getting that first win, it’s about getting that fourth win. The mindset going into this, it’s always important.”

Best of NHL: Rickard Rakell, Ducks snap Bruins' win streak at 4

Best of NHL: Rickard Rakell, Ducks snap Bruins' win streak at 4

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Rickard Rakell broke a tie with his second goal with 2:34 to play, and the Anaheim Ducks snapped Boston's four-game winning streak under new coach Bruce Cassidy with a 5-3 victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night.

Rakell also scored in the second period for the Ducks and has 24 goals in his outstanding season. Ondrej Kase, Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano also scored for Anaheim, and Jonathan Bernier made 26 saves in his first victory since Jan. 23.

Frank Vatrano scored the tying goal in the third period for the Bruins, who hadn't lost since Cassidy replaced Claude Julien on Feb. 7. Defensemen Brandon Carlo and Zdeno Chara scored early goals, and Tuukka Rask stopped 20 shots.

Anaheim beat Boston for the seventh straight time (see full recap).

Rare goal from Russell lifts Oilers over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Russell's goal with 7:58 left was his first in more than a year and lifted the Edmonton Oilers over Florida 4-3 on Wednesday night to snap the Panthers' five-game winning streak.

Russell's goal was his first since Feb. 11, 2016, when he played for Calgary. He went goalless in his first 48 games with the Oilers.

Fellow defenseman Oscar Klefbom also scored for Edmonton, as did forwards Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Connor McDavid, who came into the night leading the NHL scoring race, had an assist on Russell's goal.

Aleksander Barkov, Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Florida. Keith Yandle had two assists for the Panthers, giving him 400 points for his career.

Cam Talbot stopped 31 shots for the Oilers, who have won their last eight games at Florida -- last losing on the Panthers' ice in 2002. James Reimer made 31 saves for the Panthers, who just completed a 5-0-0 road trip (see full recap).

Another solid effort for Flyers not enough in loss to NHL-best Capitals

Another solid effort for Flyers not enough in loss to NHL-best Capitals

BOX SCORE

You see it in their faces. Feel it in their voices.
 
And you wonder how it affects them night after night.
 
The Flyers played another pretty solid loss, as they say, Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals at Wells Fargo Center.
 
A lot closer than 4-1 makes it appear (see Instant Replay). It was a lot like that solid loss last week in Calgary, too.
 
“Maybe a little bit similar,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Our effort was good start to finish. There’s always a couple mistakes you make you want to clean up and do better. I thought tonight we had more opportunities than we did in the Calgary game.”
 
They had more goals, too. Except two got taken away.
 
One for goalie interference. The other hit the crossbar and even after a long celebration and delay, was ruled no good.
 
That’s been the Flyers’ no-luck this season. It’s all gone wrong for them as their wild-card aspirations slip further away.
 
“It’s very frustrating,” team captain Claude Giroux said. “Same story. We need to find a way here. We say the same thing after each game. I like the way we’re playing.
 
“We played a good hockey game, not good enough. We have a challenge in front of us. In the past, we’ve been a team that doesn’t back down. We have to keep our heads high and battling.”
 
The Flyers had the right approach, coming out fast and aggressive on the Caps. In fact, Jakub Voracek scored 23 seconds into the game during a net scrum.
 
Thing was, Caps coach Barry Trotz correctly saw goalie interference as Dale Weise actually pushed Braden Holtby aside. It was an easy coach’s challenge to overturn the goal and that’s what happened.
 
Weise was beside himself after the game.
 
“What I was trying to do was brace myself so I didn’t bowl him over and it comes back the other way,” Weise said.
 
“I don’t know what else to do there. I’m trying to poke the puck with one hand and brace myself so I don’t hit him.”
 
Naturally, six minutes later, Brandon Manning turned a puck over along the boards with T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin and it resulted in Nick Backstrom getting a great setup in the high slot for a 1-0 Caps’ lead.
 
“Even after that, we came back and played well and had good chances,” Weise said. “It’s the same story every night. We don’t capitalize on it and give up a few chances and they score on their opportunities.”
 
That’s when frustration seeped in on the Flyers and the penalties began to mount. Sean Couturier tried to get away with an elbow. Didn’t work.
 
The Caps dazzled the Flyers with brilliant puck movement, culminating with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal to make it 2-0 at 16:28. He had two goals in the game.
 
While that could have ruined them, the Flyers came out hard in the second as Ivan Provorov appeared to score in the opening minute. However, replay confirmed his shot hit the crossbar. Two near-goals for the Flyers.
 
“I shot it and saw that [the puck] went up and I didn’t hear a sound,” Provorov said. “I thought it went in.”
 
No matter. Manning atoned for his first-period miscue by saving a puck from leaving the zone and then firing on net where Brayden Schenn scored a rare five-on-five goal by batting the puck out of the air to cut the Flyers’ deficit in half.
 
Of Schenn’s 19 goals, 14 have come on the power play.
 
Giroux’s line with Schenn and Wayne Simmonds consisted of the Flyers’ only players on the right side of the plus-minus category. And to show how deceiving that can be, Voracek worked his tail off, too, but was minus-3.
 
That’s how it goes these days for this group.
 
“It’s been a lot of games where it’s been one- or two-goal hockey games and it’s tough to do,” Schenn said. “We’re generating shots, but I don’t know if we’re generating enough chances.
 
“At the end of the day, you feel you play hard and a pretty good hockey game and end up scoring one goal again. Whether it’s 3-1, 4-1, you score one goal, you won’t win many hockey games.”
 
The Flyers are 3-6-1 since coming out of the All-Star break. Of those seven total losses, including overtime, they have scored more than one goal just once.
 
“We’ve got to rise above it, each and every one of us,” Hakstol said. “Get back at it. And that is what this group has continually done. We have to do that one more time here.”