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Leonard: Henrik frustrated after tired Rangers fall to Caps

Pat Leonard


Updated: Saturday, January 9, 2016, 6:04 PM

Henrik Lundqvist openly questioned the Rangers players’ and coaches’ collective decision not to call a timeout before everything collapsed in Saturday afternoon’s agonizing 4-3 overtime loss to the Capitals at the Garden.

The aggravated goalie minced no words in explaining what stood out most about the sequence that led to Nicklas Backstrom’s game-tying goal with 5.7 seconds remaining in regulation and the extra attacker on ice for NHL-leading Washington (31-7-3, 65 points).

“Our players were tired, there’s no question,” Lundqvist said of the defensive-zone face-off with 54 seconds to play. “A little break there before the last face-off would have been good, but we didn’t take that break so we got caught out there. They’re a good team. They got a couple looks. Ugh, it’s just frustrating.”

Lundqvist’s implied second-guess of coach Alain Vigneault won’t make this organization’s best of 2016 clips packet, that’s for sure. Good on the goaltender, though, for his general distaste with Saturday’s result.

He grunted audibly in anger, called the defeat “extremely frustrating,” leaned back and shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t know what else to say.” Then he capped it off with: “It just sucks, the way we battled back and played well in the third and in the end just gave up the last one.”

Alex Ovechkin celebrates his game-winning goal as the Caps topple the Rangers at the Garden.Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Alex Ovechkin celebrates his game-winning goal as the Caps topple the Rangers at the Garden.

This is not the Knicks. The Rangers (22-14-5, 49 points) did take some positive steps, but Lundqvist will never say the words that came out of Carmelo Anthony’s mouth after James Dolan’s basketball team fell, 100-99, to the mighty Spurs in San Antonio on Friday night: “I’ll take a loss like this any day.”

The King especially will not pretend everything’s OK after watching Alex Ovechkin sliding across the Garden ice on his knees in celebration. The Great Eight victimized Lundqvist twice, including the game-winner at 1:25 of OT to reach 499 for his career.

So maybe Lundqvist shouldn’t have second-guessed Vigneault, but wouldn’t it be more distressing to hear him resigned to the fact that the Blueshirts last won consecutive games on Nov. 21 and 23?

It’s not like Lundqvist (27 saves) hasn’t had something to do with it. He also placed blame on himself and Ryan McDonagh (two assists) for not calling more definitively for a break when the captain was fatigued.

“Mac was asking for a timeout and then he kind of changed his mind, because I asked him again and he said it was fine,” Lundqvist said. “I think in that moment the (Capitals) had so much pressure that a break would have been nice, but we have to call from the ice to let them (on the bench) know, so that’s it.”

McDonagh said only: “I definitely should have been trying to defend the net there myself and take away that guy’s time and space” before Backstrom slammed home a rebound of Justin Williams (goal, assist).

Vigneault, meanwhile, defended his strategy when asked if he’d considered giving his group a breather.

“They had their guys that had been out there,” the coach said of the Capitals. “They had used their timeout. Dom (Moore) was out there he was fresh. Our guys knew how we wanted to play 6-on-5. I had the people I wanted out there, and yeah, Mac (McDonagh) might have been a little bit tired there, but we got the puck out. If he was really tired he would have come to the bench. He decided to stay on the ice, so he couldn’t have been that tired. Unfortunately we let a good player in front of the net all alone there.”

The Rangers’ failure to build on Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Dallas was not without progress, even if the Capitals were shorthanded, without injured defenseman John Carlson, forward Jay Beagle and suspended forward Marcus Johansson.

Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes (goal assist) and Viktor Stalberg scored three unanswered at 5:54, 9:48 and 13:11 of the third period to take a 3-2 lead. And alternate captain Derek Stepan made an encouraging assessment of the Rangers’ mindset down, 2-0, at second intermission.

“I think this is the first time this year that there was a strong amount of confidence going into the third period,” Stepan said.

However, here are the agonizing facts: McDonagh slid Rick Nash’s feed on a two-on-one wide of Braden Holtby’s far post with 3:48 to go in the third and missed an opportunity to end it. Then in OT, Nash created another opportunity that Stepan could not get by the stick of Holtby (23 saves). Seven seconds later, Ovechkin roared in from the left wing and put McDonagh and Lundqvist on the highlight shows.

“We played a great game, a great third period. You just come out on the other end sometimes,” Stepan said.

Too many times, though, if you ask the man in net. 

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