Dig in on New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the National Hockey League’s equivalent to a true Greek tragedy.
Saturday night at Madison Square Garden was a huge night for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Not only did he stop 39 shots in the Blueshirts 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers, but he also reached a couple milestones in the process.
Lundqvist passed Montreal Canadiens legend Jacques Plante for seventh all-time in wins with his 438th victory and also passed Edmonton Oilers great Grant Fuhr to enter the top 10 in all-time saves with his 21,616th.
It is no secret that Lundqvist is the most important player on the team. The winningest goalie in franchise history was arguably the biggest difference maker in the Rangers playoff runs the past decade and despite the Rangers being in a rebuild, he has made it very clear he wants to stay with his team rather than go to a Cup contender.
For that reason, it is safe to assume that his legendary career, despite his accomplishments, will end without winning the Stanley Cup.
Lundqvist was very close to achieving that milestone in 2014, but the Rangers inability to close out games came back to bite them in the Finals. They came up one game short of making it back there the following year and would have the demons of 2014 come back to finish them in the 2017 playoffs. These were the best opportunities of Lundqvist’s career to win a Cup so far, with the Rangers focused on the future rather than now, his next best chance would be with another team.
Many players have left the teams they have spent most of their careers with to go win the Cup with another. One example is Ray Bourque, who spent his whole career with the Boston Bruins before finishing his final two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, winning the Cup with them in 2001.
Dominik Hasek is another player who comes to mind. After spending nine of his first 11 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Hasek went to the Detroit Red Wings where he would win the Cup in 2002. Hasek announced his first retirement after winning that championship only to come back and win another Cup with Detroit in 2008.
Another lesser known example is Kimmo Timonen who spent two long tenures with the Nashville Predators and Philadelphia Flyers prior to winning the Cup in 2015 with the Chicago Blackhawks. Timonen announced that would be his final season earlier in the year.
Leaving for a championship is nothing new. It would be hard to blame Lundqvist for wanting to go to a true contender when he does not have many years left in his playing career. But he insists that he wants to be here with the team that drafted him and kept him for the ride.
Being 36-years-old, many are waiting for Lundqvist’s play to drop, but he does not show any signs of stopping nor does he plan on letting the Rangers tank. The Rangers are currently third in the Metropolitan division with 22 points, trailing the New York Islanders who have 22 points with two games in hand and the Columbus Blue Jackets who have 26.
Lundqvist currently has 483 saves on the season, putting him at third behind John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks (543) and Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators (588). He also faced the third most shots in the league behind the aforementioned Gibson and Anderson, which is not surprising considering the Rangers average the fourth most shots against per game.
Unfortunately, because Lundqvist faces so many shots, this also means he is tied for fourth in goals against with 43, with Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights. But Lundqvist still boasts a .918 save percentage, while it does not crack the top 10 in the league, it is still solid enough to keep the Rangers in contention at the moment.
Lundqvist’s attitude towards this rebuild is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of his leadership for the young players and his good play has kept the Rangers relevant early in the season. A curse because he is still playing well enough for the Rangers to get a good piece in return for him to further build a future contender. But even so, fans appreciate the loyalty that Lundqvist has shown this organization despite all the hardships they have gone through.
It is hard to imagine the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup in the two-plus years Lundqvist has left on his contract. With the state the Blueshirts are in, the odds of getting their legendary goaltender the Cup he always wanted are very slim. But if the Rangers continue to build off their good play this year then maybe, just maybe, there is a glimmer of hope that the King’s reign will have a happy ending.