The Rangers netminder made 38 saves, half of them in the second period, and the seventh-seeded New York Rangers put the Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.
Lundqvist, who posted a 1-0 shutout win in Game 2, had to feel as if the ice was tilted in his direction the entire game. The Capitals controlled play from the second period to the end -- outshooting New York 39-21. But it’s the All-World Swedish netminder and his Rangers teammates who hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Things look gloomy for the Caps. And frustrations are starting to mount.
"Do you think the season is over?" Ovechkin snapped at a television reporter who asked about the second-seeded Capitals' daunting 3-1 series deficit following a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. "We didn't score on our chances. We play with energy and we play with passion, but it's not good enough for a victory."
The Capitals were in a similar hole one year ago against the Philadelphia Flyers before rallying to get the series even. Washington couldn't seal the deal on home ice in Game 7, losing an overtime heartbreaker.
But that team was young and unfamiliar with the playoffs after a late-season surge barely got them in. This season was supposed to be different. The Capitals ran away with the Southeast and seemed primed to make a long postseason run.
On Wednesday, Paul Mara staked the Rangers to the lead with 6:05 left in the first period, scoring just the second goal against 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov, who has stopped 75 of 78 shots since taking over for Jose Theodore after New York’s 4-3 win in Game 1.
Chris Drury added his first goal of the series for the Rangers.
Varlamov got Washington back into the series with a 4-0 win Monday night, after the Rangers posted a pair of road wins, but now the Capitals -- the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference -- could be out of the playoffs Friday night when they host Game 5.
Alex Ovechkin finally scored his first goal of the series, but it was enough even with Washington having two late power plays created by Sean Avery’s undisciplined play.
Ovechkin, who screamed at his teammates on the bench before the third period, cut the Capitals’ deficit to 2-1 early in the final frame and nearly tied it twice. The first try was denied by the post during a power play, and then he was denied when Lundqvist made a reaching glove save with 5:13 left.
Lundqvist kept the Rangers in it during the second period, when the Capitals held a 19-5 shots advantage but fell further behind.
Taking the challenge to step up from coach John Tortorella to New York’s top players, team captain Drury made it 2-0 at 2:23 when he followed a rebound of his shot and scored.
Drury, nursing what is believed to be a hand or wrist injury that raised fears he could be out of the lineup for the second time this series, flipped a soft shot on goal from the left-wing boards that Varlamov bobbled out of his glove. Lauri Korpikoski nudged it to Drury for his 47th NHL playoff goal.
Lundqvist did the rest, especially during a power play when Washington whistled four shots in on him and had several others blocked in front. New York could not get the puck out of its zone and gave up two more drives after Michal Rozsival got out of the box.
The Rangers finally iced the puck, forcing Tortorella to use his timeout to give his exhausted penalty-killers a breather.
Lundqvist’s most dramatic save came against onrushing forward Alexander Semin, who launched a rising drive that was snared at full extension by Lundqvist before the puck found the top right corner.
It brought the towel-waving crowd to its feet with thunderous chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!”
The Rangers went 12:36 between shots in the second period and carried their 2-0 edge into the third.
Ovechkin turned the mood inside Madison Square Garden from celebratory to panic when he rifled a slap shot off the crossbar and into the net at 2:13 of the third period. It was the first goal of the series on the 32nd shot by Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 56 regular-season goals.
Drury, feeling well enough to take faceoffs after not taking any in the Game 3 loss, won a draw in the Washington zone, but Ovechkin got to the loose puck and raced it up ice for his goal.
Mara gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead when he fired a shot from the left point, after Brandon Dubinsky’s faceoff win, that clipped Capitals defenseman John Erskine and bounded past Varlamov.
Notes: Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Gillroy, signed by the Rangers last week after he captained Boston University to the NCAA title, was in attendance. Drury, also from BU, helped recruit Gillroy for the Rangers. … The Capitals have never won a series they trailed 3-1. The Rangers have never blown such a lead.