An Average Month?
Someone looking at Henrik Lundqvist’s stats so far for March might get the impression that this month has been average for him, but nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, his numbers have not been up to his usual lofty standards: Lundqvist is currently sitting at 4-4-1 for the month, with both a Goals Against Average (2.80) and Save Percentage (.911) lagging his numbers for the year. However, looking solely at stats and W/L records in this case misses the point. This has truly been a month of milestones and records for the New York Rangers netminder.
Lundqvist, who turned 32 on March 2, began the month suffering perhaps from a bit of an Olympic hangover. He was handed three straight losses at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, but rebounded with a solid 4-2 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. Then came Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Two for the Price of One
On March 9, the Rangers played the Detroit Red Wings in a nationally televised matinee. The 3-0 win was a much needed two points for the Blueshirts. However, this game wound up being about more than the points. It was not only Lundqvist’s 300th career victory, but also his 49th career shutout. In one fell swoop, Henrik Lundqvist earned both a milestone for wins and a place alongside a true Rangers legend, tying Ed Giacomin’s Rangers record for shutouts in a career. The victory also placed him only one win behind Mike Richter’s franchise record of 301. In his post-game interview, wearing the Broadway Hat (the Rangers players’ award for player of the game), he talked about being in such elite company.
“It’s a great feeling to be up there with those guys. You know, this organization’s been around for so long, and to be up there with them? It’s very special and I’m proud just thinking about it.”
Lundqvist became the 29th goalie in NHL history to record 300 wins, and he did it in his 560th career NHL game. Only four goalies have ever reached that milestone faster (Jacques Plante, Andy Moog, Martin Brodeur, and Mike Vernon), placing him in very good company indeed.
Getting a Milestone Victory in Style
Lundqvist has long been known for his sense of style both on and off the ice. While he consistently graces the best dressed athletes lists of GQ, Vanity Fair, and Sports Illustrated, his on-ice style takes a more conservative route. He rarely strays from the confines of his crease, preferring instead to sit back and let the play come to him. This style is the exact opposite of the man he was chasing for the Rangers wins record–Mike Richter. Richter was a smaller goalie (5’11” to Lundqvist’s 6’1″), and had to play much more aggressively to cover the net.
Playing a less aggressive style could help Henrik’s longevity as he continues his climb up the all-time wins list. It has obviously served him well so far, as he has been the model of consistency over his 9-year NHL career. He recorded over 30 wins in each of his first 7 seasons in the NHL (from 2005-06 through 2011-12), becoming the first goalie to ever accomplish that feat. So it’s safe to say his teammates weren’t surprised that he was able to get such an important win and a record-tying shutout simultaneously.
A Rangers Record Falls
Henrik’s pursuit of Mike Richter met with a detour on March 11, as the Rangers lost to the Hurricanes at home 3-1. Lundqvist was able to tie Richter at 301 victories only three days later on the road against the Winnipeg Jets. After a rough start that had the Rangers trailing 2-1 only 3:26 into the game, Carl Hagelin’s first career hat trick propelled the Rangers to a 4-2 victory, and moved Lundqvist into the Rangers record books again. Lundqvist called sharing the career Rangers record for wins with Mike Richter “an extremely proud feeling.”
“I know what he [Richter] meant to this organization for so many years, and what he’s done, you know, just being up there–it’s a huge honor and it also means I’ve been lucky playing a long time here behind a bunch of great players and coaches helping and supporting me throughout the years. So 301 feels really good right now, but I hope I have a lot more to give you.”
Lundqvist’s first try at win 302 came at home against the San Jose Sharks on March 16. He and the Rangers played well enough to get it for most of the game, but were unable to score an official goal on 41 shots against Antti Niemi and lost 1-0. For a moment it looked as though the score would be tied as Carl Hagelin stuffed the puck just inside the post on a wraparound attempt. However, a lengthy video review (which showed Niemi bringing the puck back out of the net with the toe of his pad) was deemed inconclusive, and the “no goal” call on the ice stood. The quest for win 302 and sole possession of the Rangers record would have to wait.
Luckily for everyone’s nerves, the wait was only two more days. On March 18, the Rangers burst out offensively, with four second period goals fueling an 8-4 win against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa. In his post-game interview, Lundqvist called the feeling of becoming the Rangers goalie with the most wins “incredible.” Adding that “it means a lot to me to reach this milestone.” He also had strong praise for Mike Richter, calling him an inspiration and a role model. Based on the interview Richter gave via telephone after the game, the feeling is mutual.
“I’m entertained watching him and I’m in awe of a lot of what he’s done in such a short career,” Richter said. “Nine years, he’s been able to get right up to, and past Eddie [Giacomin], past myself. He’s really an impressive player and fun to watch.”
At age 32, Henrik Lundqvist is most likely in the prime of his career right now. Compared to other positions, goaltenders usually reach their peak later–perhaps due to the unique pressures that come with strapping on the pads. The physical strains of being a goalie are huge, but the mental pressures are even stronger–thus the position tends to favor maturity and experience. With Lundqvist’s style of play and his proven consistency, his recent 7-year, $59.5 million contract extension makes perfect sense for the Rangers. It’s certainly not a stretch to see him performing at a high level for the duration of his deal, if not beyond. The wins will continue to come, as will the shutouts, and now it’s all but assured that they will come to him as a member of the New York Rangers.
No matter where King Henrik winds up on the all-time wins and shutouts lists, there’s still one major jewel lacking in his crown–the Stanley Cup. Make no mistake, it is the thought of hoisting the Cup that drives him. While he has a noticeable sense of pride for his individual accomplishments, there is also a sense that he would trade them all for Lord Stanley’s hardware. This year’s huge contract extension shows he still believes his best chance to do that is in New York. The Rangers and their fans can only hope that he’s right.