As an original six franchise, countless greats have donned the New York Rangers sweater since their establishment in 1926. When it comes to the netminders, two men stand out above the rest – Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Richter. These two goalies are two of the best in NHL history, let alone in Rangers history, but which one is the best to man the pipes at Madison Square Garden?
Five years after being selected with the 205th pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Lundqvist debuted as the New York Rangers starting goaltender. Since that date, Lundqvist has been the backbone of the organization, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and starting 129 straight postseason games.
The man they call ‘The King’ is the Rangers franchise leader in wins (459) and shutouts (64) while also posting a career GAA of 2.43 to go along with a .918 SV%, which is also a franchise-best. Over his 15-year career with New York, Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy once in 2012, and finished in the top-six in Vezina voting for 10 straight years from 2005-06 to 2014-15.
A five-time All-Star, Lundqvist has finished a season with 10 or more shutouts twice in his career, finishing the 2007-08 campaign with 10, and the 2010-11 season with 11. The King is sixth in NHL history in career wins (first amongst European-born goaltenders), 16th in shutouts, 24th in GAA, eighth in games played with 887, and 12th in save percentage.
The ultimate prize of a Stanley Cup has eluded the Swedish goaltender, but his success in the postseason reigns supreme over other Ranger netminders. He leads New York in several postseason categories, including games played (130), wins (61), SV% (.922), and shutouts (10).
Although he didn’t retire as a Blueshirt, Lundqvist’s Rangers career has indeed been one for the record books.
Most known for his miraculous stop on a Pavel Bure penalty shot during Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, Mike Richter was a tremendous athlete. He backstopped the most memorable Cup run in franchise history, almost single-handedly weathering the storm that was the New Jersey Devils in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final. Richter was integral to New York’s success during his tenure as their starting netminder.
During that 1994 postseason run, Richter put up incredible numbers, going 16-7 with a 2.04 GAA, .921 SV%, and 4 shutouts. During his 14-year Rangers career, Richter made the postseason eight times and ranked second in games played (76), fourth in SV% (.909), second in wins (41), and second in shutouts (9).
The Pennsylvania native always shined brightest when the stage was magnified, and was one of the best U.S.-born goaltenders ever, ranking fifth in career wins with 301.
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Richter appeared in three All-Star games in his career, to go along with five top-10 Vezina finishes. He ranks second in franchise history in wins, second in games played (666), and 12th in SV% (.904). A second-round pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft out of the University of Wisconsin, it took Richter five years to become the No. 1 option in goal for New York, where he shined during his brilliant career.
International Hockey Standouts
Both Lundqvist and Richter enjoyed tremendous NHL careers, but their hockey legends extend to international competition as well. The Swedish and American national teams had sustained success while both of these players guarded the pipes, as the two nations took home World Championship and Olympic medals during their tenures.
Starting with Lundqvist, his international resume may top his NHL one. Dominating both the NHL and the world alike, Lundqvist managed to win one Olympic gold medal and one World Championships gold medal. He also added three more silver medals – two at the World Championships and one at the Olympics.
Additionally, Lundqvist played in the Swedish Hockey League before transitioning to the NHL, winning the SHL Championship twice. He has a career 2.24 GAA and .940 SV% at the World Cup, a 2.19 GAA and .911 SV% at the World Championships, and a 1.80 GAA and .926 SV% at the Olympics.
His counterpart wasn’t too shabby of an international player either. One of the most decorated U.S. men’s players of all time, Richter is one of 10 American-born players to participate in three Olympic Games, per the USA Hockey Hall of Fame.
He won a gold medal and the tournament MVP in the 1996 World Cup and a silver medal in the 2002 Olympics. He has a career 3.31 GAA in international play, but a superb 2.43 GAA and .943 SV% in the World Cup.
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In addition to his heroics for Team USA, Richter also played two years of collegiate hockey for Wisconsin and would later become an assistant coach for Yale before taking over as an assistant for the New York Jr. Rangers.
Richter won the Lester Patrick Trophy in 2009 for NHL contributions to U.S. Hockey and is now a member of the USA Hockey Hall of Fame (from ‘Richter to Receive Lester Patrick Award,’ New York Times, 10/20/2009).
Beloved in the Big Apple
On Feb. 4, 2004, Richter’s No. 35 was lifted to the rafters of Madison Square Garden in front of a roaring, sold-out crowd. Soon enough, Lundqvist’s No. 30 will also be hanging up there next to him. These two goaltenders were not only loved by Rangers fans for their on-ice talent but also for their humble personalities off the ice.
Richter did the unimaginable; he brought the Rangers their first Stanley Cup in 54 years, endearing himself to the hearts of all the fans who thought they would never see that day. But in the end, when comparing the two goaltenders, Lundqvist is by far the superior netminder.
Richter never once finished a season with a lower GAA than Lundqvist’s career mark of 2.43. Richter’s lowest GAA was 2.57 in 1993-94, as opposed to Lundqvist’s 1.97 GAA in 2011-12, the year he won the Vezina Trophy.
They both are magnificent talents, each providing Rangers’ fans with memories to last a lifetime. But in a showdown between the two best goalies in New York Rangers’ history, Lundqvist edges out Richter.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!