All eyes will be on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist during Game 2 Monday night, but some of those eyes may flip over to see Matt Harvey’s start against the Cardinals.
They are conversational buddies. Matt Harvey will attend Henrik Lundqvist’s games when he has a few free hours in town, and whenever the Mets aren’t recording his every move. There are occasional messages back and forth between the two stars, expressions of encouragement.
“We’ll stay in touch once in a while,” Lundqvist was saying Sunday, after a practice at the Garden.
Lundqvist and Harvey also happen to share the deed to New York right now, the key to the city’s sports headlines and aspirations.
Both will be on center stage Monday night when Lundqvist and the Rangers play Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning and Harvey pitches against the Cardinals at Citi Field.
Lundqvist’s portfolio is much thicker, of course. He’s been around for 10 seasons, accomplished much more. But then he’s a hockey player in a mask, and Harvey is a baseball pitcher whose game face bears down on both batters and live television cameras.
Call it even for now, between the King and the Dark Knight. You want to talk about prime-time New York athletes, there aren’t too many others currently in that conversation. Carmelo Anthony is on a terrible team. Eli Manning hasn’t won in a few years. Alex Rodriguez is a carnival sideshow. Jacoby Ellsbury is still, somehow, a Red Sox emigrant. David Wright is plagued with injuries. Maybe Odell Beckham or Michael Pineda or one of the Mets’ baby-faced pitchers becomes someone very big in the next few years, but it’s too early for that.
Harvey, a huge Rangers fan, is a frequent presence in the stands – moreso last year.
So we have Harvey and Lund-qvist, glamorous guys both assigned the unglamorous task of preventing scores. Lundqvist is the one in the spotlight at the moment, because springtime means the hockey postseason and the Rangers are on a long run. If they can beat Tampa in Game 2, it will mark the first time since their golden year, 1994, that the Rangers will have won the first two games of any series at home. Another good omen.
“Playing at home, you want to take advantage of that,” Lundqvist said. “I personally don’t really think about the series standings, just see it as one game. There’s too much work. Just focus in on tomorrow.
“Every time you win a game you have to expect the other team to come a little harder, be a little more desperate,” he said. “They’re gonna test us more, no question about it. We just have to be sure we match it. Leave everything out there.”
There can’t be much more to leave on the ice. All he’s done so far, in 13 playoff games, is stop 94.5% of shots on goal, for a 1.56 goals-against average. It is sometimes hard to believe Lundqvist is playing this well. He struggled, typically, in the early season and then suffered a neck injury that knocked him out for nearly two months. Now, his shot anticipation is other-worldly, his reaction time honed to a fine nano-second.
There is something about this time of year that seems to bring out the best in the Swedish goaltender, who still requires a Stanley Cup to cement his legacy. That window of opportunity is slowly sliding shut.
Harvey has come to be known as The Dark Knight of Gotham.
Enlarge Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Lundqvist, of course, is The King.
“The playoffs are so intense, of course it takes a toll,” Lundqvist said. “But at the same time, it’s so much fun. You don’t go there, don’t ask yourself if you’re tired. You’re just that determined and focused.”
During the time that Lundqvist sat out, Cam Talbot was an extremely effective stand-in, and the Rangers streaked toward the Presidents’ Trophy. Whether it is heresy to mention it, Glen Sather will have a tough decision to make at the end of this Stanley Cup run. Does he really want to trade the younger Talbot and stick with the expensive, 33-year-old Lundqvist? Or should the GM go the other way, deal away the heart and face of the franchise?
That is a choice to be made at a later date, and one likely to go in Lundqvist’s favor. For now, Lundqvist will start the next game, and the game after that. He can expect the Lightning to attempt what every team attempts against every top goalie in the league: Jam the crease and the slot. Block his vision. Fire shots.
Lundqvist practiced those adverse conditions again Sunday at the Garden. As always, he is prepared.
“You expect this time of year to have more traffic, more people, pay the price,” Lundqvist said. “It’s not going to change my approach.”
If Game 2 goes like Game 1, you can expect the same approach for Game 3, 4, etcetera.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.