Henrik Lundqvist has been playing for the New York Rangers since the 2005-06 season. His arrival concluded a nine-year playoff drought and put the Blueshirts back on the map. In his career, the Rangers have been on numerous trips to the postseason, but they’ve come up short every time. Lundqvist has experienced all that heartbreak despite being one of the most statistically accomplished goaltenders to have ever played the game. Here’s a look back at the five most disappointing playoff moments in the King’s career.
5. Chris Drury and Sabres Slash Rangers
There was growing optimism about the Rangers in the spring of 2007. They had qualified for the postseason for the second consecutive year, and Lundqvist was a talented, young goalie with much promise. After they were swept out of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by the New Jersey Devils the year before, Lundqvist and the Rangers were looking to take the next step.
They squared off against the third-seed Atlanta Thrashers in the first round of the 2007 Playoffs. New York prevailed without too much resistance and took care of their southern foes in four games. Unfortunately, the next round wasn’t as easy, a seven-game series against the Buffalo Sabres.
At the time, the Sabres were an elite squad with a roster full of stars like Daniel Briere, Jason Pominville, Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek, and Maxim Afinogenov. They were primed for a deep playoff run and ready to take on a fairly inexperienced Rangers club.
Surprisingly, the Rangers fought valiantly throughout the series. Games 1 and 2 went to Buffalo who defeated the Rangers 5-2 and 3-2 respectively. Then, New York showed their resilience by winning the next two games at Madison Square Garden, one of which was in double-overtime (Game 3, 2-1). With the series knotted at two apiece, the Rangers gained confidence. Lundqvist was on his game and had allowed only two goals in two games heading into a pivotal Game 5.
The Rangers grabbed a 1-0 lead while Lundqvist stopped everything in sight. He seemed impenetrable as the Rangers were on their way to capturing a 3-2 series lead and a chance to close it out on home ice. Then disaster struck in the final seconds of regulation. New York grew comfortable and allowed Buffalo’s co-captain, Chris Drury, to score a goal with eight seconds remaining. Afinogenov then buried another goal in OT to win the contest 2-1 and regain control of the series.
The Rangers’ defense did not apply enough pressure on Buffalo’s speedy, talented forwards during the closing minutes of Game 5. They sat back and become too reliant on Lundqvist to bail them out. The lack of support cost Lundqvist the chance to close out the game and help the Rangers claim a 3-2 series lead.
Though the Rangers didn’t go down easily in Game 6, they lost 5-4 in regulation, Drury’s Game 5 OT winner knocked the wind out of their sails. Lundqvist was phenomenal and nearly stole the series. In the six games he started in that series, he had a 0.917 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against average. This was the first of many disappointing losses in Lundqvist’s career.
4. Ovechkin and Capitals Launch a Comeback
The 2009 Playoffs were one of the most electrifying of the decade, featuring some of the NHL’s brightest young stars. The Eastern Conference Quarterfinals began with one of the best rivalries in recent memory between Alex Ovechkin and Lundqvist. The two have had many playoff encounters, but 2009 started it all.
What made this series so disappointing was that the Rangers squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Washington Capitals, ironic considering Washington has historically been the team to choke in the playoffs. Here, the roles were reversed. Lundqvist was playing brilliantly but he eventually cracked without support from his teammates as the Capitals mounted a furious three-game comeback.
The Rangers were a pesky squad and created enough havoc to easily advance. Unfortunately, the better team prevailed as is usually the case in a seven-game series. The Rangers were still developing around Lundqvist and were not quite at the championship level yet.
Again, Lundqvist went home empty-handed as frustration was building among the fan base. The Rangers had become regular postseason participants but were struggling to get past the second round.
3. Tampa Bay Zaps Lundqvist and Rangers Out of Playoffs
In 2014-15, much of the Rangers’ core was intact but they were aging, so this felt like their final opportunity to go deep in the playoffs as a team. Lundqvist and the Rangers entered the 2015 Playoffs as the best team in the NHL, hoping to avoid the Presidents’ Trophy curse.
The first round wasn’t bad as the Rangers knocked off a struggling Pittsburgh Penguins squad in five games. They then squared off against Ovechkin and the Capitals in the second round. Luckily, the Rangers finally returned the favor to Washington after their playoff series sweep six years before. Washington was up three games to one when the Blueshirts mounted an epic comeback to dramatically defeat the Capitals 2-1 in OT off Derek Stepan’s game-winning goal in Game 7. Lundqvist came up with some spectacular saves and was clutch, as usual, in winning the series.
It felt like Lundqvist was destined to fulfill his dream of winning the Stanley Cup. The Tampa Bay Lightning were the only team that stood in his way to returning to the Final. Unfortunately, the Lightning had other ideas and forced the Rangers to seven thrilling games. Game 7 has traditionally been Lundqvist’s strong suit, as he excels in high-pressure situations. Sadly, the Lightning got the better of him, and they defeated the Rangers 2-0 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
That was Lundqvist’s last legitimate chance of winning a championship. The Rangers have not been the same since, and are now in a rebuild. The series loss to the Lightning was devastating for Lundqvist, who may have considered it his final shot at the Cup. Yet, two other moments hurt even more than this.
2. Alec Martinez Seals it in Double OT
The 2013-14 Rangers were a pleasant surprise, to say the least. They finished the season with a 45-31-6 record and 96 points under new head coach Alain Vigneault. Lundqvist had a fairly good season and was still considered one of the league’s best. Still, many felt this group was not good enough to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers were a defiant squad that played with heart and soul. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Penguins, Lundqvist helped his team mount a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to win. They then overthrew the Montreal Canadiens in the following round to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Lundqvist stood on his head in Game 6 against the Canadiens with a 1-0 shutout performance to clinch the series.
The Rangers were slated to take on the Los Angeles Kings who were on their own Cinderella journey. The Kings won a reverse sweep against the San Jose Sharks and won another two dramatic seven-game series against the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks. The Cup Final was a hard-fought series between the Rangers and Kings with three of five games won in OT and two in double OT.
The Rangers fell behind 3-0 in the series, but Lundqvist willed them to a 2-1 victory in Game 4 at home to keep them alive. The Blueshirts then hopped out to a 2-1 lead in Game 5 but the Kings overwhelmed Lundqvist with shots. The Kings tied the game at two and forced OT but one period wasn’t enough.
The Rangers came painfully close to ending the contest in double OT when Rick Nash whiffed on the puck with a gaping net in front of him. Los Angeles created a chance about eight minutes later on a three-on-two. Lundqvist turned aside the first shot by Kyle Clifford and kicked it out to Alec Martinez who wasted no time burying it for a 3-2 win to seal the Kings’ second Cup championship in three years.
Seeing Lundqvist on the ice after Martinez’s goal was disheartening, especially after all of the hard work he and his teammates had put towards that run. Lundqvist was not the reason New York lost the Cup; he was inspirational, stopping a heavy offense led by Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. While this was one of the worst defeats of Lundqvist’s watch, there is one that is more significant.
1. Adam Henrique With the Dagger
At the time, the 2011-12 regular season was the Rangers’ best in recent memory. Some may argue that 2013-14 or 2014-15 were better but there was something special about that group from nearly ten years ago.
Lundqvist was the best goalie in the NHL that season and won the Vezina Trophy. His goals-against average was superb (1.97) and he had an incredible save percentage of 0.930. While the Rangers did not win the Presidents’ Trophy, they were the best team in the Eastern Conference and narrowly beat out their bitter rivals for the spot (Boston Bruins, Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils). It was a stacked Eastern Conference with a lot of talent near the top.
The Rangers had their work cut out for them, but they had swagger which made fans confident they could do something special. However, they struggled to hold off a pesky Ottawa Senators squad during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Blueshirts defeated the Senators in seven games to win a date with the Capitals.
This series lived up to the playoff rivalry and the Blueshirts had a few heart-stopping moments to keep fans on the edge of their seats. In Game 5, Lundqvist stopped 16 of 18 shots but New York was still down 2-1 in the final seconds of the third period. Brad Richards pulled through with 6.6 seconds remaining to tie it and force OT.
Lundqvist had to come up with some timely saves in the extra period to keep his team in the game. Marc Staal sealed the win to give the Rangers a 3-2 series lead. They won the series in seven games to reach the Eastern Conference Final against the Devils.
It was Lundqvist’s first career Conference Final. He and the Rangers were four wins from the Stanley Cup Final, a feat the team hadn’t accomplished since 1994. The Devils did not want another 1994 moment and did everything they could to prevent the Rangers from moving on.
It was a hard-fought series that nearly went the distance. Game 6 was a thriller that went to OT with the score tied at two. A mad scramble in the crease in the extra frame had Lundqvist and the Rangers defensemen desperately trying to cover up the puck. The Devils reacted faster. Adam Henrique found the puck and shoved it into the back of the net to end the game 3-2 and the series at 4-2.
A fantastic season had come to a screeching halt by the Rangers’ cross-river rivals. It was heartbreaking to witness Lundqvist fail to shut down the Devils in such a critical situation. It was his deepest playoff run to date, but at least the window was open for this group of players to go further in the next year or so.
The King Deserves a Cup
Looking back, Lundqvist has endured a lot in his career. He has been everything and more for the Rangers organization but has yet to win a Stanley Cup. I can’t think of a more deserving player. He’s a champion at heart but hasn’t had the support to take the final step. He’s been surrounded by great players who’ve fallen short in their quest for a championship. Many players have come and gone since 2005 but he has weathered it all.
At 38 years old, the window has nearly shut on his chances of winning the Cup. It’s a shame, but Lundqvist will likely retire without ever getting to hoist hockey’s holy grail. Maybe I’m wrong, but at this stage, it seems unlikely.