Lundqvist can’t break Hab-it as Rangers self destruct in loss


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Paul Byron scores the game-winner on a stunned Henrik Lundqvist as the Canadiens scored three goals in 62 seconds as the Rangers fell apart in a devastating 5-4 loss at the House of Horrors. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Canadiens Montreal

This one was self inflicted. It wasn’t that they didn’t try hard enough. The effort was there for the most part. But a total meltdown turned what would’ve been a good road win into a brutal 5-4 loss as the Rangers self destructed against the Canadiens at Bell Centre. It was their second straight defeat and now has them clearly in fourth place in the Metro Division. They could be playing for a wildcard instead of a top three spot in a loaded division full of roadblocks.

They don’t call it the House of Horrors for nothing. Montreal has never treated the Rangers kindly. Especially Henrik Lundqvist. On a night he wasn’t supposed to play, a “lower-body” injury to backup Antti Raanta forced him into action at the start of the second period. It was a long two periods for the franchise netminder who let in all five Montreal goals on 22 shots after Raanta stopped all 10 in a perfect first which had the Rangers ahead 1-0 on a Brandon Pirri power play goal.

It’s hard to explain what happened. After the game’s first 20 minutes, the Rangers led by a goal and had played a good road period. They scored on the power play off a draw with Pirri finally finding twine for the first time in 11 games when his one-time blast beat Carey Price far side from Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan at 12:24.

But this was a odd game in so many ways. The Habs thought they had the game’s first goal but a good coach’s challenge by Alain Vigneault reversed the call due to goaltender interference on Raanta. To be honest, Andrew Shaw was pushed from behind by Kevin Klein. It easily could’ve been ruled a good goal. However, Toronto found enough conclusive evidence to reverse it which drew boos from the Montreal capacity crowd of 21,288.

Following Pirri’s fifth power play goal (7th overall), Shaw would be involved in a controversial hit on Jesper Fast. With Fast skating through the neutral zone without the puck, he was blindsided by a high hit from Shaw at center ice leaving him down to recover. While refs Dan O’Halloran and Chris Rooney huddled up with the two linesmen, J.T. Miller had seen enough. He challenged Shaw, who obliged. Even though Shaw got the decision, it was nice to see Miller to come to Fast’s aid. The illegal hit was unacceptable. Especially from a guy who returned from a concussion.

Shaw plays a nasty physical game with edge. He is fiery and sometimes, can lose his head. We saw this last year with the Blackhawks when he lost it a couple of times in the penalty box. Maybe that’s why Chicago parted with him to save on the cap. I doubt Joel Quenneville would tolerate his shenanigans. It probably got tired. Under Montreal coach Michel Therrien, Shaw remains an effective player. But an even more dangerous one. Running around like that isn’t smart. It was a dangerous hit that could’ve injured Fast, who fortunately was okay to return.

The officials made the appropriate call assessing a interference major and game misconduct to Shaw. His hit will be subject to an automatic review by the Department of Player Safety. Figure that to happen on Monday where there should be at least a phone hearing. Whether he’s further disciplined remains to be seen.

If there was a turning point, it was the Rangers’ inability to score on the five minute major. They messed around with the puck too much and didn’t make Price work. Credit also goes to the Canadiens’ penalty kill. They didn’t give up a lot and remained only down a goal after one.

When the teams came out for the second, one thing was different. It was Lundqvist entering the cage instead of Raanta, who left the game. Not to speculate. But it could be the groin. If so, that’s not good news on the Ranger front. They’ll have to recall a goalie from Hartford for Tuesday’s home game against Dallas. It will either be Brandon Halverson or Magnus Hellberg.

After failing miserably on the remainder of a five-minute power play, the Rangers decided to let the Canadiens greet Lundqvist with a warm welcome. As is tradition, he got scored on immediately. On a broken coverage with McDonagh and Kevin Klein way too apart, no one took Alex Galchenyuk in front. He had all day to redirect a Mark Barberio shot past Lundqvist for the Habs’ first shot on him to tie the score at 3:08.

Unlike the first, the second was wide open and played more to the Habs’ frenetic pace. They’re a faster skating team than the Rangers. That is probably why they won. The Rangers got into a track meet. They did well initially. On a two on one set up by Pavel Buchnevich, Rick Nash finished off a Kevin Hayes rebound with Price way out of the crease for a 2-1 lead at 6:29.

The Montreal bench challenged for goalie interference due to Hayes’ skate getting caught in Price’s right skate. But it was the definition of continuation and had no impact on Nash’s goal which was a follow up play with Price out of position. After they justifiably upheld it, more boos rained down at Bell Centre. It didn’t last long with Brian Flynn taking advantage of some faulty Ranger defense to beat Lundqvist at 7:58.

With Nick Holden off for slashing after Alex Radulov undressed the entire D, it was the Rangers who struck gold thanks to the unique penalty kill tandem of Hayes and Miller. The Broadway Bandits combined for a shorthanded goal when Hayes led Miller, who got behind Shea Weber and quickly snapped one past Price for his NHL-leading third shorthanded goal- extending his point streak to seven. A well executed play by two smart players with great chemistry.

Things cooled down for a while. The Rangers even protected the 3-2 lead into the third. For the first half, Montreal had nothing going. Locked up by the Blueshirts’ tight checking, they weren’t able to get any good scoring chances.

That changed following an icing. Of all people, Alexei Emelin beat Lundqvist off a clean face-off win to tie the score with 9:07 remaining. The play was set up by Paul Byron and Phillip Danault (3 assists). How Emelin scored was shocking. He let go of a simple wrist shot from way out that Lundqvist never picked up.

Following the game which saw the Canadiens strike for three goals in a 62-second span to go from 3-2 down to 5-3 up, a downcast Lundqvist snapped at MSG reporter John Giannone. He asked him if he saw Emelin’s shot. Lundqvist didn’t mince words replying, “Did it look like I saw it.”

That’s about as irate as I’ve ever seen him. He never does that. But it was a pretty poorly timed question. Blame the MSG truck for feeding poor Giannone a ridiculous question. He’s made to look pretty bad sometimes by some of the obvious questions he asks after bad losses. Giannone is a stand up guy as is Lundqvist, who’s at his locker win or lose. This wasn’t a normal situation. He got called into a game following an injury and never looked comfortable.

With the game tied, what followed was a total breakdown. On just a terrible read by McDonagh in which he got caught pinching, he left way too much gap with partner Dan Girardi. It led directly to an easy transition with Zach Redmond hitting Max Pacioretty in stride for a clean breakaway goal that put Montreal in front only 36 seconds later. Pacioretty’s 20th was a thing of beauty unless you root for the Blueshirts. It was ugly. Totally on McDonagh too because he made a foolish play. Girardi was never catching Pacioretty.

As for Lundqvist, he doesn’t stop breakaways as frequently. He used to be money. But that was a long time ago. He’s clearly fighting the puck and going through a very tough stretch. When you have MSG feeding Giannone questions about his confidence, it’s humiliating. Does he look confident? How bad can they insult his intelligence along with the fans?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you had Adam Clendening on his knees while Byron stuffed one home on a chaotic scramble where our D checked no one in Habs’ sweaters. The goal came only 26 seconds later and gave Montreal a 5-3 lead with 8:05 left.

Honestly, no Ranger defenseman played well. They all stunk. Holden was probably the best. But he has been most of the season. As if to prove a point, it was his point shot that was double deflected by Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan to cut it to 5-4 with 5:07 remaining. Stepan’s 10th was a nice redirect at the side of the net which gave the Rangers four goals on Price. That should’ve been good enough to win.

The 1:02 implosion where the Habs scored three in a row did them in. You knew Price wasn’t gonna allow them to tie it. I said it to my father. About a minute later, he flat out robbed a flying Michael Grabner with a glove save to roaring approval from the crowd.

Ultimately, the Rangers did it to themselves. This could’ve been a feel good win. Instead, as they ran out of time with Chris Kreider forcing Price to make one more save with over three seconds left, it’s an awful loss that will sting. A very winnable game against a team that was struggling and they had a full fledged panic attack on the ice.

As for Lundqvist, it is what it is. He’s going to get the starts now. So, now is the time for him to respond the way he always has. Like a true champion. He will get the repetition. It’s up to him to fight out of this. At 34, he’s not a kid anymore. It’s too early to say he’s done. But the body language hasn’t been good. Neither has the defense, which looks naked without Marc Staal.

It doesn’t matter which 18 skaters Vigneault pencils into his lineup Tuesday. They have to be much better. From the goal out, they have to be. They still remain tied in points (57) with the suddenly slumping Pens. But they remain fourth in the division with two more games played while the Blue Jackets and Capitals continue to win consistently.

Don’t look now. But while the Flyers are nose diving, the Hurricanes are creeping up. Their 7-4 win over the Islanders has them up to 49 points. With the Leafs, Sens and Panthers all tied with 48, the wildcard race could start to get interesting.

For the Rangers, they must get this one off their minds. Maybe a night out on the town is best. Some drinks might do them some good. They weren’t awful by any stretch. But bad enough to fall apart. They do have a practice on Monday and then the Stars visit. We’ll see what they’re made of.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-J.T. Miller, Rangers (shorthanded goal-14th, fought Shaw, somehow only played 13:44 incl. 11:18 ES, 1:19 PP, 1:07 SH-inexplicable.)

2nd Star-Alexei Emelin, Canadiens (tying goal-2nd, assist, 3 shots, 3 blocked shots, +1 in 29 shifts-23:41-I feel sick doing this. But he scored a big one and played well.)

1st Star-Paul Byron, Canadiens (goal-13th for GWG, assist, +1 in 30 shifts-20:02-a very underrated player who really sparked the comeback.)

Notes: This was a wildly entertaining game with the two Original 6’s combining for 65 shots (NYR 33 Habs 32) and 120 attempts (NYR 62 Habs 58). … Six different players recorded at least two points with four Habs and two Blueshirts. Hayes had 2 assists and Stepan had a goal and assist. … Despite struggling, Price got the win finishing with 29 saves. … Aside from Shaw’s shenanigans, the Habs only took one other penalty. There weren’t many power plays with NYR 1-for-3 (Pirri) and MTL 0-for-2. … Key Stat: Giveaways NYR-20 MTL 12 … Montreal controlled draws winning 36-of-59 led by Torrey Mitchell, who went a perfect 7-for-7. Danault also went 9-and-3 while tallying three assists. Stepan was the Rangers’ best going 8-and-9. … With an assist, Buchnevich made it six straight games with a point dating back to Nov. 5. Over that stretch, he’s 4-4-8. Vigneault wasn’t afraid to play him giving Buchnevich 27 shifts (17:39). Oscar Lindberg and Jimmy Vesey struggled each going minus-two with a shade over eight minutes.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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