by Ryan Isley
They are two players in two different sports, who come from vastly different backgrounds - one born in Are, Sweden while the other was born in Akron, Ohio, a mere 4,000 miles apart. Yet these two players just may share a common bond this spring.
Those two players are LeBron James of the Miami Heat in the NBA and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers in the NHL. By nickname, they are both royalty – LeBron James is “King James” and Henrik Lundqvist is “King Henrik” – but that is not where the similarities end for these two superstars.
The two are in the same position as the postseasons in their respective sports draws on this season. What both of these players have in common is that no matter the reason for their team losing, they are the two who are taking the brunt of the blame and criticism, warranted or not.
They are both the best player on their teams – teams that are being looked upon as one of the favorites to win the championships in their sport. Yet neither has broken through yet, for a number of different reasons. Whether it was because of a bad game by them personally, or lack of help from their supporting cast, both players are still looking for their first championship.
We all know the well-documented criticism of LeBron throughout the Heat’s run in the NBA playoffs – when they lose, he is a lightning rod for media, fans and bystanders alike. Even on nights where LeBron has a good game, he is the scapegoat for most if the Heat lose.
LeBron won his third NBA MVP Award this season, which is why some feel that it is his team and therefore he should take the blame for every loss. Despite LeBron averaging 29.1 points, 9 rebounds and 5.8 assists in the Heat’s 10 games this postseason, he has been the source of most criticism in the team’s three losses and has even taken blame for things when Miami wins.
Hell, Dwyane Wade no-showed in game three of their series against the Indiana Pacers and Lebron was still ridiculed for the loss. Even when LeBron scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and handed out 9 assists in game 4 against Indiana (a feat that had only been accomplished once before in the history of the NBA playoffs) some (*cough* Skip Bayless *cough*) still tried to give the credit for the win to Wade.
Lundqvist has found himself in the same spot this postseason for the Rangers. The Rangers goaltender is the odds-on favorite to take home the Vezina Trophy (NHL’s best goaltender) and is one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) which puts him directly in the spotlight when the Rangers play – the same as LeBron when the Heat take the court.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils, which turned out to be one of his worst performances of the postseason when he stopped just 12 of the 16 shots he faced in the 5-3 Rangers loss, Lundqvist had been living up to his end of the deal for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 30-year-old Swede went into Wednesday allowing just 1.65 goals per game (third-best in the playoffs) and stopping 93.9% of the shots he has faced (fourth-best in the playoffs). In goals against per game, Lundqvist trailed just Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks at 1.31 (Vancouver played just five games) and Jonathon Quick of the Los Angeles Kings at 1.54 (Quick has led the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals).
In save percentage, Lundqvist was only behind Schneider (.960), Quick (.946) and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes (.944). Lundqvist’s numbers may be even more impressive, however, as he had played more games and had faced 105 shots more than Quick, 84 more shots than Schneider and 345 more shots than Schneider.
His four goals given up on Wednesday kept him 3rd in goals against at 1.77 goals per game and moved him to 6th in save percentage at 93.3%.
Even with how great Lundqvist has been this postseason, he is still the one who ends up taking the blame when the Rangers lose games, despite the fact that he is the one player who has kept the Rangers afloat at times in the past month.
In games three and four against the Devils in their current series – the Eastern Conference Finals – the Rangers have come out lethargic to start the game and it has been up to Lundqvist to keep the Rangers around in the game. He was brilliant in game three, saving everything thrown at him and allowing the Rangers to win 3-0 with three third period goals. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to bail them out in a 4-1 game four loss.
This wasn’t the first time that the Rangers had started games slowly and seemed as if they didn’t have their legs under them until the second or third period. It has been an ongoing issue in these playoffs and Lundqvist has had a number of games where he has single-handedly kept the Rangers in a game until they woke up – or until head coach John Tortorella snapped them out of their slumber.
Some of Lundqvist’s goals against have hardly even been his fault. He had one put in by his own player, had one that should not have been a goal upheld by the review booth in Toronto and has given up a number of goals when his defense fails to clear out the crease, giving the opposition a good screen and a chance to tip in the goal.
Besides the lack of help on defense, the Rangers offense at times in this postseason has been absolutely atrocious. Through 19 games, the Rangers are averaging just 2.16 goals per game, which ranks 9th of the 16 teams who made the postseason. Six of the seven teams whose goals per game were less than the Rangers were eliminated in the first round. Thankfully for the Rangers, they have played two of those teams in the postseason – eliminating Ottawa in the first round and Washington in the second round.
The Rangers have been held to two goals or less in 13 of their 19 playoff games so far and have scored more than three goals in just a single game – their opening game in the playoffs.
While the offense has sputtered constantly and the defense has had their lack of concentration at times, it has been Lundqvist who has seemed to always have his head in the game. Yet it is the goaltender who continues to be the player that people look at when the Rangers lose.
Sounds just like what is happening to a certain player who wears No.6 for the Miami Heat, now doesn’t it?
What do you think – Does the comparison fit? Or do you think Ryan has lost his mind? Leave a comment or email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org