One of the most memorable eras of New York Rangers hockey has come to an end as New York decided to buy out the face of the franchise, Henrik Lundqvist. While his time with the Blueshirts has come to an end, he should be remembered as one of the greatest Rangers and one of the greatest goaltenders of all time.
Lundqvist Turned the Franchise Around
Lundqvist was selected by the Rangers in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Draft, and little was known about him at that time. Now, 20 years later, he will go down as one of the greatest draft steals in NHL history.
After a successful stint in Sweden, Lundqvist earned his shot with New York during the 2005-06 season and never looked back. At the time, the Blueshirts hadn’t made it to the playoffs since the 1996-97 season but that changed in his rookie year, as he helped change the culture of the team.
Lundqvist immediately showed his potential, and took over as New York’s starting goalie. He created memories, including winning a 15-round shootout over the Washington Capitals, and was given the nickname “King Henrik” because of his stellar play. More impressively, he remained consistent throughout the season and finished with 30 wins, a .922 save percentage, and a 2.24 goals-against average. That consistency lasted throughout his career, as he finished in the top six in voting for the Vezina Trophy in each of his first 10 seasons.
As a rookie, Lundqvist led the Rangers into the postseason for the first time in nine years and even though they were eliminated in the first round, he helped form a winning culture (from ‘It’s No Misprint: Rangers Clinch a Playoff Berth,’ New York Times, 04/05/06). He won at least 30 games in each of his first seven seasons and his streak was only broken because teams played just 48 games during the 2012-13 season. He led the NHL with 24 wins that season, then won at least 30 games in each of his next four seasons.
Thanks to Lundqvist, the Blueshirts made it to the postseason in 11 of his first 12 seasons. The Rangers were competitive every season and they played zero “meaningless games” (i.e. games in which a team is eliminated from playoff contention). The reality is, as long as he was in goal, the team had a chance to win every game, no matter how badly they were outplayed or overmatched.
Durability and Character
Lundqvist hardly ever missed games due to injury. The Rangers heavily relied on him and although he was constantly under duress, he never wore down or let it have a negative effect on his play. He often played 70 or more games in a season but still helped carry the Blueshirts into the postseason.
Lundqvist never complained and when he did struggle or suffer a heartbreaking loss, he went to his press conference and answered every difficult question he was asked. While the goaltender may not have been the team’s captain, he was one of New York’s most respected leaders throughout his tenure with the Rangers.
After hardly ever missing a game due to injury, Lundqvist suffered a career-threatening and potentially life-threatening injury when he was hit in the throat by a shot in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2014-15 season. He showed his toughness, staying in the game and leading New York to a 4-1 victory. He then led the Rangers to a 6-3 victory in their next game before the team’s medical staff realized the severity of his injury.
The injury could have easily robbed Lundqvist of the rest of his career or certainly altered his play, but when he returned after two months, he showed no signs of rust, and was the same dominant goaltender he was before the injury. He was fantastic in the postseason and led the team on a run to the Eastern Conference Final.
The biggest knock on Lundqvist throughout his career is he has never won the Stanley Cup; however, he did lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and the Eastern Conference Final three times. He has been an incredibly clutch player throughout his career. In the regular season, he has a 2.43 GAA and a .918 SV%. While those numbers are excellent, he has been even better in the postseason and has 2.30 GAA and a .921 SV% in 130 playoff games.
He has also been outstanding in elimination games, with a 14-4 record in elimination games during the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 postseasons. He allowed just 31 goals in those 18 games. His spectacular play with the season on the line helped create incredible comebacks and memories that will last long after Lundqvist has retired.
In 2012, Lundqvist led the Rangers to victory after they trailed 3-2 in their series against the Ottawa Senators in the first round. They then beat the Capitals in seven games in the second round, including a 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3.
In 2013, the Rangers trailed their first-round series against the Capitals 3-2 but Lundqvist posted shutouts in Games 6 and 7 to pull off an improbable comeback.
In 2014, Lundqvist led the Blueshirts to a 2-1 Game 7 victory over the rival Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the postseason. In the second round they trailed 3-1 in their series against the Capitals but thanks in large part to the play of The King, the Rangers came from behind to win three straight games and the series. In Game 7, he made a fantastic save on a deflection to preserve New York’s 2-1 lead and the series.
The Rangers then defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final with Lundqvist delivering a shutout in Game 6 which sent the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994. He made an athletic sprawling save on a deflection, which proved to be the difference in the game.
In 2015, Lundqvist once again led the Rangers to a miraculous comeback. After trailing 3-1 in their second-round series against the Capitals, New York won three consecutive games, which included an overtime goal from Ryan McDonagh in Game 5 and an overtime goal from Derek Stepan in Game 7. Those incredible moments could not have happened without Lundqvist’s excellent play in goal.
Lundqvist’s Incredible Run
Lundqvist is the Rangers’ franchise leader in wins, shutouts and games played in both the regular season and postseason. His 459 wins in the regular season are the most by a European goalie and the sixth most all-time. He won gold for Sweden in the 2006 Olympics and the 2017 IIHF World Championship.
Lundqvist is an all-time great goaltender. He has created countless memories, made difficult saves look routine, and repeatedly made saves on shots that seemed impossible to stop.
Lundqvist spent 15 years with the Blueshirts and went from being an unheralded seventh-round pick to becoming the King of New York. He has been a great player, a great teammate, and a great leader both on and off the ice.
Lundqvist has become more than just a part of the franchise – he is the franchise, and no matter where he goes from here, he will always be a Ranger.