- Image 1 of 3
- Image 2 of 3
- Image 3 of 3
WASHINGTON – When the difference between winning and losing is a puck shot from behind the goal line that goes in off his helmet, all Henrik Lundqvist can do is shake his head.
Among the hundreds of decisions and 41 saves he made against the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers goaltender knew all anyone wanted to know was how that one crazy goal went in.
"That's the life of a goalie," Lundqvist said.
Life as a goaltender in the Eastern Conference during the second round of the playoffs is complicated, whether it's the matchup between Lundqvist and very capable Senators counterpart Craig Anderson or the Washington Capitals' reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby against the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury. The Senators and Penguins are each up in their respective series going into Saturday's Game 2s because of goaltending, with it taking on greater importance moving forward.
"If you don't have the goalies, it's hard to win," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Friday. "In a series there's going to be games where the difference is going to be the goalie on the other side is going to make one more save or your goalie is going to make one more save."
One more save by Holtby on Sidney Crosby or Nick Bonino in Game 1 would've made a difference even considering his 18 other stops. Meanwhile Fleury stopped 33 of the 35 shots the Capitals put his way, including four without his stick during a mad scramble in the final minutes that he called "fun."
Fleury was at best the Penguins' 1B goalie this season after Matt Murray led them to the Stanley Cup last year, but so far he has looked very much like the goalie who won it for Pittsburgh in 2009.
"He's always been up for the task, making those big saves at big moments," veteran winger Chris Kunitz said. "We have to do a better job for him and not give up those quality chances."
The Capitals outshot the Penguins 35-21 in their 3-2 loss in Game 1, and though Trotz thought Holtby was fine, the Vezina finalist wanted two of those goals back.
"I know I need to be better if we're going to have success, and that's basically the bottom line," Holtby said.
Lundqvist knows that pressure all too well after making 21 saves in the first period alone Thursday and keeping the Rangers in Game 1 before Erik Karlsson's sharp-angle goal in the third. The Swedish star kicked himself for waiting and guessing too much on Ottawa's game-winner, but teammates weren't going to blame him for losing a 2-1 game.
"He was fantastic," center Derek Stepan said. "We need him to be our best player, and he was phenomenal again."
Only problem is, so was Anderson, who has phenomenal career numbers against New York and is 5-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .930 save percentage so far in these playoffs. Anderson's ability to stop breakaways sets him apart, and making the timely save is sometimes even more valuable than making a large quantity of them.
"He's made those huge saves on those breakaways, and he's made I think the keys save at the right time," said coach Guy Boucher, who believes his team must put 40-plus shots on Lundqvist every game to win. "That's our goalie. He's done that. We know we've got a good goalie. We know we're playing against a good one, but we know we got a good one."
Some things to watch Saturday:
Rangers at Senators, Ottawa leads 1-0 (3 p.m. ET, NBC)
All eyes are on the crowd at Canadian Tire Centre after 16,744 fans — almost 2,000 below capacity — showed up for Game 1. Karlsson told Canadian TV network Sportsnet on Friday that he noticed the empty seats at what's believed to be the smallest Ottawa playoff crowd in 16 years.
Though the arena being a half-hour from downtown continues to be an issue, a Saturday afternoon puck drop for Game 2 should make a difference.
Penguins at Capitals, Pittsburgh leads 1-0 (8 p.m. ET, NBC)
Carl Hagelin could return to the Penguins' lineup after being out since mid-March with a lower-body injury. Coach Mike Sullivan called Hagelin a game-time decision after the speedy winger took part in a full-contact practice Friday and said he's feeling good.
"He brings that element of speed, his ability to stretch the ice, his pursuit game, forces turnovers all the time and we can create a lot of offense off of it," Sullivan said. "He's a good penalty killer, he's a solid two-way player, so we can use him in a number of different capacities. But I think his speed certainly helps us play the type of game that we want to play and we're a more competitive team when he's in the lineup."
Hagelin in means a tough call on who comes out, though Sullivan was critical of winger Conor Sheary's play the past couple of games.
More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno