PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby skated past the Rangers’ crease with 6:38 remaining in Monday’s second period, with the play blown dead, and bumped Henrik Lundqvist’s head with his left elbow.
Minutes later, Penguins forward Chris Kunitz barreled forearm-and-stick-first into the King’s castle, connecting with Lundqvist’s mask again.
“I think I had two cross-checks to the face,” Lundqvist snarled of Kunitz’s tactics on two separate occasions. “But I know that’s how he plays, so I expect it.”
The Rangers’ 2-1 win was earned brutally. The game ended with a Pittsburgh pile-on at the final buzzer that left Blueshirts center Dominic Moore’s face bloodied on a tackle by Kunitz from behind.
“What they did to Dom was kind of dirty, so hopefully they look at that,” said Carl Hagelin, who scored the Rangers’ first goal. “He was bleeding everywhere.”
Fortunately, Lundqvist is no stranger to protecting a nail-bitingly close lead in this building, or to handling Pittsburgh’s nasty attempts at agitation when the stakes are highest.
A goalie cannot face more contact in the crease than Lundqvist encountered in last spring’s triumphant Game 7 stand to win that emotional second-round series. And in Monday night’s Game 3 win, the King again refused to oblige the Penguins with much in the form of retaliation – only a few game-saving saves.
It’s noteworthy that he’s also handling this round of infractions in a season in which he was sidelined from Feb. 4 through March 26 with a partially torn blood vessel, and was unsure at one point whether he even would play again until next fall.
Sidney Crosby is the chief offender, elbowing Lundqvist in the head with 6:38 to go in the second period.
“It doesn’t help my game to get frustrated,” Lundqvist said of why he doesn’t fire back.
Of course, Lundqvist has been known for flashing his temper. In Game 6 of last year’s series, after Crosby speared Moore in the groin, Lundqvist skated past the Penguins captain and dumped his water bottle on him. We can only hope to again receive that kind of theatre – minus the below-the-belt shots.
For the Rangers’ sake, though, another warning from Alain Vigneault similar to his post-Game 1 plea to officials clearly isn’t going to deter contact with Lundqvist.
“I’ve pointed it out,” Vigneault said Monday night. “What else can I do? There’s nothing else I can do or say.”
What will overcome it, though, is a cool-headed Lundqvist at the top of his game. The Rangers had that on Monday night, countering the strong work Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury did on the other end with more – but still not enough – Ranger traffic in front.
Lundqvist had little to do early in the Presidents’ Trophy-winners’ best team effort of these young playoffs. He did not face a shot for the game’s first 15 minutes and 10 seconds. In sports, in hockey, in Rangers-Penguins, however, it always comes back to the big names – to Lundqvist for New York and Crosby for Pittsburgh – to the stars that make the difference.
Lundqvist won this battle, keeping Crosby off the board after he had scored two goals in Saturday’s 4-3 Game 2 series-evening Pittsburgh win in New York. The Penguins captain, however, was an absolute monster in Game 3. He did everything but score.
Lundqvist and the Rangers celebrate as they survive a physical affair and take a 2-1 series lead.
Crosby hit a post in the first. He ruined the King’s shutout bid with 6:48 remaining in regulation by assisting on Patric Hornqvist’s goal to draw to make it a one-goal game. He led the 13-shot assault on Lundqvist in the third.
In the final period, though, when Crosby cut across the crease with the puck, from right to left, Lundqvist stretched his right pad and stick across to deny No. 87 in black.
In the second period, he had protected 1-0 and 2-0 leads with major right pad stops on Pens forwards Max Lapierre and David Perron, and in perhaps the best form of retaliation, Lundqvist made one final excellent denial on a Kunitz deflection with 27 seconds remaining and the Penguins bombarding his net.
“The toughest part was just seeing the puck in the third,” Lundqvist said. “They kept coming and were in the crease a lot, so I tried to be as active as possible to find pucks. It was definitely challenging, but I felt like I played a pretty good game.”
But throw all of the saves and poise away and you have the most entertaining moment: Lundqvist’s Olympic-level dive when Crosby bumped his head with his elbow. The CONSOL Energy Center crowd booed. The Penguins rolled their eyes.
But it was classic Lundqvist gamesmanship, and more importantly for the Rangers, a demonstration of the Penguins’ frustrations.
“Nothing was said,” Lundqvist said of Crosby’s bump. “It’s ongoing, every game, from most of their guys, and I expect it at this time of year – some slashes and cross-checks. It doesn’t really bother me.”
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