The number one goaltender for the New York Rangers still remains Henrik Lundqvist but could Antti Raanta take over the job in the playoffs?

When it comes to the New York Rangers, only one goaltender can possibly come to your mind. 

Who, you ask? Well, of course, the King, Henrik Lundqvist.

The fashionable, New York spotlight-driven netminder has been the center-point of the franchise for the past 12 seasons. Any true blue Rangers fan (not including James Dolan) can recall and appreciate all that Henrik has done to bring success to the organization. Hank’s 2016-17 season has been an exciting roller coaster with haters around one sharp corner, supporters following a loop, and the crowd pleasers who demand Hank be traded or benched following a corkscrew.

Speaking of roller coasters and large drops, Lundqvist‘s numbers have taken a fall this season as well. Yet whether you amount that to the struggling defense in front of him or drop in performance, you can’t hide the numbers below.

On the contrary, Antti Raanta has compiled an impressive campaign this season. The able-minded backup goaltender has been great when called upon by Alain Vigneault. Similar to when Cam Talbot was called upon to fill in for injured Lundqvist in 2014-2015, the team seems to play better in front of a backup tender.

Regardless, Raanta has proven he can be a starting goalie in the NHL and is a compelling acquisition for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this summer. Raanta’s numbers speak for themselves this season.

Lundqvist Injury and sudden plot twist

Over the weekend, the New York Rangers announced that Henrik Lundqvist will be sidelined 2-3 weeks with a hip injury. Antti Raanta has once again been propelled into the top goalie slot. The Blueshirts and Raanta were able to defeat the struggling Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Sunday and came up short against the Tampa Bay Lightning losing 3-2 at the Garden on Monday night, just before the Blizzard ensued.

The Rangers have two more sets of back-to-back games this Friday and Saturday and next Tuesday and Wednesday. The upcoming intense schedule will be interesting to see how the organization deals with the goalie void. Shockingly, the team recently announced that

Shockingly, the team recently announced that Magnus Hellberg, the current backup to Raanta, has been assigned to Hartford. As many are left scratching their heads this could only mean two things. Either Henrik is coming back much sooner than expected or the organization will be sticking with Raanta every night while recalling Halverson or Skapski for the remainder of the Lundqvist injury.

Let’s assume Henrik Lundqvist is able to return from his hip injury in the allotted 2-3 weeks. Let’s also assume he isn’t Superman coming back one week after being injured. This only leaves around five to seven games let in the regular season. 

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Hank has been known as a goalie that needs sufficient ice time in order to gain confidence and play to the highest of his abilities. That being said, the Rangers need to have Lundqvist on the ice for those remaining games of the regular season to find his game, if it’s still out there. Hopefully, he recovers well from his injury, blows us away in those remaining regular season games and bursts into the playoffs as a hot ball of fire. But what if he doesn’t?

Playoffs?

As the NHL playoff picture continues to change and teams look to solidify a spot in the tournament, the New York Rangers look to be a virtual lock for the first wild card spot. The standings as of today would have Blueshirts taking on the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal. With injuries and personnel changes for the next few weeks, rosters and starting lineups are still uncertain.

However, one thing is pretty clear for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist will be the starting goalie. Deservingly so, Hank has compiled impressive NHL playoff numbers and proven he can steal a game under the spotlight.

Put this scenario in your head. The New York Rangers go up to Montreal in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The Rangers play terrible and Hank gets shelled, giving up four goals in both games. Down 0-2 going home to the Garden, where you have statistically played worse all season, who is your starting goalie in game three?

Who is Alain Vigneault’s starting goalie in game three?

Would AV actually pull the plug on Hank?

This season, Vigneault and the Rangers coaching staff have shown they are no longer afraid to put Hank on the bench. I’m sure Twitter nation would be all over benching Hank, but is it really the right move? Antti Raanta has virtual no NHL playoff experience only playing in three games, mostly as a fill-in, during the terrible showing against the Penguins last season. Maybe Raanta does have what it takes to steal a game in the playoffs. There is only one way to find out.

Imagine the conversation between AV and Hank as his net gets taken away from him. Imagine it similar to this. If only Alain Vigneault had a set of balls like the late great Herb Brooks.

Hopefully, Lundqvist comes back strong from the injury, gets back to the Hank that we know and love and quiets all this “Hank is done” chatter. However, if he continues to play the same up and down style, specifically in this year’s playoffs, is a change is warranted?

This season, the playoffs and all the Henrik chatter has and will create a worry among Rangers fans as to the future of the team and the future of Henrik Lundqvist. His enormous salary and the term of his contract creates an uneasy situation if his performance continues to decline over the coming seasons. Solutions to the problem would have to be carefully deliberated and could be costly. That topic needs to be further explored during the off-season

Like what you read? Be sure to check out ESNY’s Real Talk Rangers Podcast. Follow the crew on Twitter, check out the ESNY RTR home page and never miss an episode on iTunes.

 NEXT: Rangers Suffer a Bad Loss Against the Bolts (Highlights) 


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