SAN JOSE – A tense Henrik Lundqvist tried hard to speak only about his own performance Saturday afternoon, and not his team’s. But it was impossible to conceal his feelings completely after the Sharks absolutely spanked the absent Rangers, 4-1, at SAP Center, in a mirror image of the Blueshirts’ embarrassing 9-2 loss here on Oct. 8, 2013, other than the final score.
“I need to make more saves, if that’s the only way,” Lundqvist said, slipping off script to acknowledge the obvious – the Rangers (40-24-8, 88 points), who allowed a season-high 52 shots, are in big trouble.
Captain Ryan McDonagh sounded the alarm bells he has rung in this frustrated locker room following unacceptable efforts all season, such as Dec. 18 in Winnipeg, Jan. 24 in Ottawa and last Saturday at the Garden against the Penguins. Only 10 games remain until the playoffs and this team’s no-show efforts persist.
“I mean, everybody’s got to really look at themselves and see what they can bring more of, because it simply wasn’t even close,” the captain said.
Lundqvist was magnificent making 43 saves, including 20 in the second period, as the majority of his teammates posed as passengers. Alain Vigneault showed mercy by yanking Lundqvist for the fifth time this season 9:05 into the third period, down 4-1, because “he was by himself out there.” But an oblivious reporter asked the King how “far off” his game was after being replaced by backup Antti Raanta (five saves).
Henrik Lunqvist makes 43 saves before getting an early trip to the showers in San Jose.
“Personally, or as a team?” Lundqvist said, reacting reflexively and honestly. “I feel pretty sharp, I’m not gonna lie. I just feel the last few games for whatever reason there’s been a stretch in every game I play where there’ve been a lot of breakdowns.”
Translation: Lundqvist has an 0-3-2 record in five starts since his last win Feb. 27 in Dallas and is not the reason why. Vigneault called Saturday’s loss to the Sharks (40-25-6, 86 points) “as far as our puck movement from our defense, one of our worst nights of the year.”
The coach said Marc Staal’s puck over the glass 19 seconds into the third period as “just a symbol of our defense moving the puck tonight.” He acknowledged the game was tied only “by some fortunate chance” once ex-Shark Dan Boyle scored at 17:32 of the second in possibly his last game inside his old home rink.
But San Jose, backstopped by a bored Martin Jones (25 saves), forced the score to reflect the flow of play in the early third: Joe Thornton (5:45) buried a rebound after Tomas Hertl torched the worrisomely-deteriorating Dan Girardi. Joel Ward (two goals) tallied at 7:34 after a Kevin Hayes turnover at the offensive blue line that might get him scratched Monday against Florida. Joe Pavelski (9:05) chased Lundqvist after a Keith Yandle offensive zone giveaway.
The Sharks dominant the Rangers in a Saturday matinee in San Jose.
Any good feelings the Rangers had built on this week’s California road swing (1-1-1) went up in smoke.
“Many areas of our game that were a great sign in Anaheim and there in spurts in the L.A. game were nowhere to be found today,” McDonagh said. “We weren’t on the same page. We weren’t winning pucks. We looked slow because we weren’t making the right reads and competing. We talk about it all the time: trusting each other out there and trusting our structure. But the only way it works is if you’re working extremely hard for each other, and it wasn’t there at all.”
The Rangers are in peril of slipping from their second seed in the Metropolitan Division to a wild card behind the red-hot Penguins (86 points, game in-hand) and Islanders (85 points facing Dallas Saturday night, two games in-hand). Now they’ve played their worst this close to the postseason. Is that most concerning?
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Lundqvist said. “I think it’s important that we understand how serious this is, the situation we’re in, but I think the best thing you can do for everyone here is just to look at yourself. What can I do to make this team better? What can I do to help this team win? And then hopefully (we) have 20 guys doing that instead of looking over your shoulder.”