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Lundqvist stealing series for Rangers

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - At this point, the frustration level of Alex Ovechkin has to be at an all-time high.

Goals usually come easy for the Russian superstar, a fact made clear by his status as the NHL's two-time reigning Rocket Richard winner as the league's top goal-scorer. However, the Richard Trophy is a regular-season award and, thanks to New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Ovechkin has found playoff markers to be a scarce commodity.

Lundqvist has been sensational so far in leading his Blueshirts to a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals over Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Swedish backstop has been peppered with 149 shots -- an average of just over 37 shots per game -- and has allowed just eight goals over that four-game stretch.

The three-time Vezina Trophy nominee has been particularly good in keeping Ovechkin in check so far. The Russian sniper was held scoreless in the first three games of the series before breaking through with a goal in a 2-1 setback in Game 4.

The Rangers are one win from pulling off a significant upset almost entirely due to Henrik Lundqvist's stingy play.
And it's not like Ovechkin hasn't been getting his chances. In fact, he has fired 35 shots Lundqvist's way in this series, and the netminder has turned aside all but one.

The Rangers are now one win away from pulling off a significant upset in the opening round, and that's almost entirely due to Lundqvist's stingy play between the pipes. New York has been consistently outshot by the second-seeded Capitals and, without Lundqvist, the Rangers would certainly not be holding a three games to one lead in this series.

Still, it doesn't feel like this series is over when one considers how much offensive pressure Washington has put on the Rangers, and also the fact that the Capitals have outscored New York by an 8-7 margin over the four games. But, Lundqvist has bailed out his skaters on more than one occasion in the series, especially in Games 2 & 4, which were both victories for New York despite the fact that the club managed a total of three goals in those outings.

The trick for Ovechkin and the Caps is to keep the same approach and to hope that Lundqvist's armor can be cracked, like it was in Game 3 when Washington notched a 4-0 victory.

The Capitals could also build off last year's opening-round loss to Philadelphia, a series in which they were down 3-1 before forcing a Game 7, which the Flyers won in overtime.

But, the Rangers have to feel good about their current situation. With three chances to win one game, it would be hard to believe that Lundqvist wouldn't be able to steal another victory to send his club into the conference semifinals.

HOW SWEEP IT IS

Making quick work of an opening-round opponent is always a good way to keep your team fresh in the playoffs, although sweeps are usually tough to come by. That being said, two teams have already completed sweeps and another club has a chance to end their series in four games on Thursday night.

Vancouver was the first to pull of a sweep, ending St. Louis' playoffs with Tuesday's victory, and Boston followed the next night by capping its set against Montreal in four games.

The Detroit Red Wings, defending Stanley Cup champs, have an excellent shot at sweeping Columbus with a 3-0 lead heading into Game 4 in Ohio. Not to count the Blue Jackets out completely, but it's hard to imagine Columbus extending the series to a fifth game considering the club has been outscored by a 12-2 margin in the first three tests.

There is the belief that a sweep could also hurt a team in the next round, as the club could get a bit rusty waiting for another opponent. However, a good coach or a veteran club should be able to prevent that from happening.

In Vancouver's case, injuries to key players like Mats Sundin and Sami Salo made sweeping the Blues a godsend. However, with their goaltender Roberto Luongo posting a .973 save percentage and a .087 GAA against St. Louis, the layoff could conceivably have a cooling-down effect on the Canucks, who could possibly have 10 days off in between playoff games.

Historically, close to 19-percent of NHL playoff series end in sweeps and it's doubtful any player on a sweeping team has bemoaned the fact their team is going to have too much time off in between games. Then again, getting too comfortable with one's situation could be what leads a team to have a disappointing series following a sweep, after all.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo


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