Alain Vigneault didn’t ask Henrik Lundqvist if he wanted to go back in for the third period. The Rangers coach had already made the decision to pull his star goalie less than halfway through Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, after Montreal had taken a 4-1 lead and the Bell Centre had entered full-on madhouse mode.
Backup Cam Talbot was the one between the pipes as New York stormed back to tie it, and he stayed between the pipes for the rest of the game, a 7-4 Canadiens victory. Talbot surrendered one goal in the second, after New York had leveled the score, then one more in the third. The Habs scored their seventh into an empty net.
“I pulled [Lundqvist] because I thought at that time we needed a little momentum shift, and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention,” Vigneault said. “It did for a while. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
It was the second time in these playoffs that Lundqvist had been pulled after allowing four goals prior to the second intermission. He got the hook in Game 6 of the Rangers’ first-round series versus Philadelphia, before responding with a solid performance in Game 7, a 2-1 New York victory.
Vigneault expects another solid bounce-back Thursday at Madison Square Garden, this time with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
“He’s a veteran player,” the coach said today. “One of the best in his area, and I’m sure he’s going to be focused and ready for the next game.”
Vigneault, you may recall, was criticized when he was coaching Vancouver for failing to pull Roberto Luongo during rough playoff outings. Like in Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, when Luongo allowed all eight goals in an 8-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston.
“[Luongo] said, ‘Don’t even think about taking me out,’ so that’s what I did,” Vigneault said after that game, leaving many to wonder why the coach had left the decision up to the player. It was 4-0 after 15:47 of the second period. Why not pull him then, before things got really out of hand? Which they most certainly did. Much to the delight of the Boston fans.
The very next game, Vigneault did pull Luongo, early in the third after he’d allowed four goals on just 20 shots, perhaps still shaken from his previous outing.
But it was the eight-goal meltdown that people still remember to this day. And don’t forget, all the blame Luongo received after the Canucks blew a 2-0 lead and lost to the Bruins was a factor in his much-publicized request to be traded.
Three years later, is it possible Vigneault has learned from his experience in Vancouver? That he’s realized people have a way of forgetting when goalies get pulled after allowing four goals? That it’s the big-time meltdowns — when six, seven or eight get past a guy — that everyone remembers, and can have franchise-altering consequences?
Only the coach has the power to nip those meltdowns in the bud.
“We didn’t give [Lundqvist] too much help,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, “and obviously A.V. felt that was the right move just to get him out of the game.”
And get re-focused for the next one.