OTTAWA — The game was a mess, but what a glorious, unpredictable, entertaining playoff mess it was. Unless, of course, you are Henrik Lundqvist, one of his teammates or one of the citizens of Rangerstown.
Then it was a disaster.
Give Lundqvist and the Rangers a two-goal lead in the third period of a playoff game, and you are home free. At least you had been every time since Game 4 of the 2011 first round — when those Blueshirts could not handle a 3-0 lead against the Capitals and lost 4-3 in double-overtime.
Give Lundqvist five goals, and he is home free — well, except for Game 3 of the 2015 conference finals and the 6-5 overtime defeat to the Lightning.
But not in this Game 2 on Saturday, in which The King was not nearly good enough, and the Rangers could not protect a 5-3 lead they held until 3:19 remained in regulation. That is when a rather unheralded fellow named Jean-Gabriel Pageau morphed into Rocket Richard by scoring twice on deflections to complete a hat trick by the end of the third period, tying the score at 18:58 before recording his fourth goal on a two-on-one left wing screamer to give the Senators a 6-5 victory at 2:54 of the second overtime.
Somehow the Rangers could not win this one. Somehow they are down 2-0 and must win four of a remaining possible five games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against an opponent they have given a boatload of confidence.
Somehow Lundqvist must elevate his game following an afternoon on which he seemed off balance throughout and was unable to carry the baton cheap nhl jerseys over the finish line after his teammates had battled through myriad errors to stake the goaltender to three different two-goal leads at 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3.
“I wasn’t moving as well as in other games,” Lundqvist said. “I wasn’t good enough.”
No, he wasn’t, and if he isn’t at the top of his game when the series resumes with Tuesday’s Game 3 at the Garden, the Rangers won’t have even a prayer of coming back in this Round 2.
Lundqvist still was wearing his pads when he talked to the media after sitting in his stall for up to 15 minutes with his head down and clasped between his hands. The goaltender never quite had a grip on this game. He seemed to acknowledge that when asked if he felt secure with the late lead in a game filled with ebbs and flows each way.
“You’re never 100 percent safe, sure or comfortable,” the goaltender said. “You sort of have it under control, but then there are quick plays.”
There were quick plays and there were plays off the rush and there was a late tying goal with the opposition goaltender pulled just as there was in the Game 2 overtime defeat in Montreal. There was Alain Vigneault cutting down to three lines in the third period and in overtime after juggling his line combinations to start the second period. There, for some unknown reason, was Brendan Smith playing just 2:34 in the third.
There were a pair of shorthanded goals and pair of goals from Brady the Skjei-Hey Kid. There were three kills within the game’s opening 12:18. There was Chris Kreider reemerging to score his first of the playoffs, but there was also Rick Nash somehow unable to put the puck into what appeared an empty net after coming out from behind the net with 9:00 remaining in the first OT, the puck perhaps poked off his stick by Cody Ceci or Kyle Turris. There was a much more assertive effort from Kevin Hayes, but there was also a poor pinch from Nick Holden on the right boards on what became Pageau’s game winner.
And there was Lundqvist, who started his afternoon by yielding a right wing short-sider to Pageau at 13:59 of the first period that negated Michael Grabner’s early shorthanded score. Or perhaps, there Lundqvist was not. Pucks just seemed to elude him, long ones and tips. He had trouble keeping his feet and was on the seat of his pants when Mark Stone scored from in front to make it 4-3 early in the third period.
“Even though those are tough saves, I have to find the way,” Lundqvist said. “That’s my job.”
In Game 2, he did not do it well enough. And as such, the heavy lifting begins for the Rangers after this mess they left behind in Ottawa.