Henrik Lundqvist is entering his 13th season in the NHL and fans just don’t realize how good they have it with the king in net.
The New York Rangers, just returning from a lockout and an extended period of failure were in desperate need of a star. Their prayers were answered by a 23-year-old from Sweden. In the Henrik Lundqvist era, the Rangers have made the playoffs 11 of 12 seasons. It isn’t a coincidence.
Lundqvist is the most important player in the franchise. He has dragged lesser teams far beyond their ceiling. Lundqvist has only been to the Stanley Cup Final once in his career, and it took a superhuman effort to get the team there. The team has always counted on Lundqvist to be perfect for their gameplan to work. The Rangers played in 15 consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs from the c
The Rangers played in 15 consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs over the course of two consecutive playoff runs. That was by design. The team expected Lundqvist to be the difference between winning and losing.
Injuries and Slumps
Lundqvist has given his heart and soul for the team and taken significant punishment in the process. Lundqvist took a puck to the throat in 2014, the result of a freak accident. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh was jockeying with center Jay Clement of the Carolina Hurricanes in front of Lundqvist. McDonagh, while jockeying for position, raised his stick, which lifted Lundqvist’s helmet up exposing his neck to an oncoming puck.
Lundqvist stayed in the game. He also played a full game against the Florida Panthers two days later while at risk of suffering a stroke from the sprained blood vessel in his neck.
The goalkeeper also showed his age last season. Lundqvist, for the first time in his career, was benched based on performance. Antti Raanta filled in admirably and gave him time to get his mind right.
While blaming Lundqvist’s age outright is unfair, he didn’t have much help. If Lundqvist looked old, the defense looked ancient. Both Dan Girardi and Marc Staal wear the miles of playoff-hardened veterans and simply didn’t have it last season.
As a result, Lundqvist resembled someone taking a multiple choice test who didn’t study. He was guessing where the puck was going to the point it seemed like any shot could go in. Jake McCabe of the Buffalo Sabres put one past Lundqvist from beyond center ice showing just how hard the goalie was pressing.
Nonetheless, Lundqvist always battles back into form. He wasn’t at his best in the 2016-2017 regular season, but he proved the difference in a tight playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.
With all due respect to both Mike Richter and Eddie Giacomin, Lundqvist is the most successful goalie in the history of the franchise. Lundqvist is good in the regular season, but in the post-season, he goes to another level.
Lundqvist’s average postseason numbers are a .922 save percentage and 2.28 goals allowed. While both are solid outright, I’d like to key in on the more successful playoff runs the Rangers have had.
Lundqvist was the driving factor in the 2014 cup final run with a 2.11 GAA and a .928 save percentage. The team was primarily built around the defense that year, and the most important part of your defense is the goalie.
The 2011-2012 Ranger team that now seems overlooked due to both recency bias and just how bitter the end was, featured Lundqvist’s best raw numbers. Lundqvist averaged a 1.82 GAA with a .931 save percentage, meaning most nights, just two goals would get the job done.
Why he’s so Important
Having an elite starting goaltender is like having an elite quarterback in football. Goalies and Quarterbacks need to be perfect and set a tone for the team every time they play.
Lundqvist has done that for the better part of 12 seasons as the unquestioned face of the franchise in every context. He’s visible in the community through both the Garden of Dreams Foundation and the Henrik Lundqvist foundation.
Lundqvist in net means the team has a chance to win that game, period. He can swing momentum in a game for the Rangers in a way few goaltenders can in hockey. When a team makes the goalie the highest paid player on the team it sends a clear message: this is our guy, you aren’t beating him when he’s on.
Henrik Lundqvist will be 36 years old by the time the playoffs roll around, should the Rangers qualify. Tim Thomas won Stanley Cup at age 40 with the Boston Bruins, so Lundqvist isn’t totally out of time.
The front office did their franchise player a major favor by retooling the defense and making the priority better transition play.
Ondrej Pavelec, the new backup, has never had sustained NHL success which is a cause for concern. Should Pavaelec falter as a backup, it could force Lundqvist into more regular season games to just make the playoffs. If Lundqvist crosses the 65 game mark the team should be genuinely concerned about their chances.
Lundqvist is a generational talent who doesn’t come around often. He’s entering the final chapter of his career and still has a lot left to give the franchise. Hopefully the Hen-rik chants are here for a while longer. Maybe one day at a parade.