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: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.