- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2012

NEW YORK — The Washington Capitals were buzzing. Alexander Semin had a back-handed chance. Mike Knuble on the doorstep. Time after time New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was there to provide the big stop.

Roman Hamrlik’s knuckleball kept Lundqvist from the shutout, but his performance in Game 7 was one of the biggest reasons why his team is moving on to the Eastern Conference final series and the Caps are going home.

“We had chances, but their goalie played outstanding tonight and he made some unbelievable saves tonight,” Hamrlik said. “That was the big difference in the game.”

Grade-A chances weren’t hard to come by, even if they weren’t in the quantity the Caps would have liked. They had shots from key areas and couldn’t beat Lundqvist, who is a front-runner to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

“I think he was a factor tonight, that’s for sure. He made some big saves for his club, some timely saves for his club,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We needed to be more around the net to pick up loose pucks and get second opportunities.”

That was a familiar refrain around the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden, that the Caps did not put enough pressure on Lundqvist. He finished with 22 saves, including his share of memorable ones, but the Caps only had four in the third period and they were kicking themselves plenty, even as they praised the goaltender.

“He was good. He was what we expected from him,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He made some big saves, but I don’t think we tested him enough today, which is an unfortunate thing.”

During a second period shift in which the Caps hemmed the Rangers in their zone and possessed the puck there for roughly two minutes, Lundqvist only had to make two stops. But they were big ones.

“We were really pushing there in the second. A couple shifts we really logged a lot of time in there. Repeated passes across the blue line and just couldn’t jam anything in,” right wing Mike Knuble said. “[Lundqvist] held his own there. I felt like as a group were going to get one there. We didn’t, but we felt like that was a great offensive push. We just couldn’t convert there.”

It proved costly because there weren’t a whole lot of chances to convert. Lundqvist was there all along.

“They are going to have minutes where they are just going to come hard and we need to make sure we don’t get hurt,” Lundqvist said. “For me, there, I just try to stay focused and I know we are going to take it over sooner or later.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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