Henrik Lundqvist debuted for the New York Rangers in 2005, and now, 15 years later, he is still playing for the Blueshirts. However, Lundqvist is 37 years old and he hasn’t gotten a start in goal in the past four games. The strong play of 23-year-old Alexandar Georgiev and 24-year-old Igor Shesterkin has earned both of them increased playing time instead of Lundqvist, who has just one more season remaining on his contract.
The King’s time as a Ranger is nearing an end.
Fellow New York sports heroes like Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees were given standing ovations in New York throughout their final seasons. This may be Lundqvist’s final season as a Ranger, and he deserves appreciation while he is still a member of the team.
Rise to Stardom
The Rangers drafted Lundqvist in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, long after Rick DiPietro was selected first overall by the rival New York Islanders. Lundqvist was dominant in 2005-06, his first season with the Rangers. He finished with a record of 30-12-9, with a .922 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average. In the middle of the season, he led Sweden to a gold medal during the 2006 Olympics, then returned to New York and led the Rangers to their first playoff appearance since 1997. Fans at Madison Square Garden started calling him “King Henrik” or “The King” and chanting “Henrik! Henrik!” to show their support for the rookie during his spectacular first season with the Blueshirts. He finished third in the voting for the Vezina Trophy that year.
While Lundqvist’s NHL career was just getting started, DiPietro couldn’t stay healthy and was out of the NHL by 2013. He finished with a career .902 save percentage. Lundqvist has had a better save percentage than that in every season of his career.
Over the next five seasons, Lundqvist continued his dominant play, finishing third in the voting for the Vezina Trophy two more times and becoming the face of the franchise. He also played well in the postseason, giving the Rangers opportunities to beat teams that created far more scoring chances than the Blueshirts. Despite his stellar play, the team never made it past the second round of the playoffs in his first six seasons but did make it to the postseason in all but one of those seasons.
The 2011-12 season was a different story. Fueled by then-head coach John Tortorella’s emphasis on blocking shots, along with elite goaltending from Lundqvist, the Blueshirts finished with 109 points, the most in the Eastern Conference. Lundqvist finished the season with 39 victories, a .930 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average. He won the Vezina Trophy.
More importantly, he somehow raised his already incredible level of play in the postseason. The Blueshirts beat the Ottawa Senators in the first round and the Washington Capitals in the second round. Both series went seven games and the Rangers won the decisive game in both series 2-1, thanks in large part to the strong play of Lundqvist.
In Game 3 against the Capitals, he stopped 45 of 46 shots in a 2-1 triple-overtime victory. Eventually, overtime games and shot-blocking took a toll as the team got worn down and fell to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final. Lundqvist finished the postseason with three shutouts, a .931 save percentage and a 1.82 goals-against average in 20 games.
Lundqvist helped the team make a run in the postseason once again in 2013-14. In the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers, he allowed just one goal in a 2-1 victory in Game 7 that sent the Blueshirts on to the second round to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Rangers trailed 3-1 in the series but came from behind to win it in seven games, with Lundqvist allowing just one goal in each of the final three games of the series. He capped off the team’s comeback with a spectacular save in Game 7 with the team clinging to a 2-1 lead.
He led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years when he shut out the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, including a spinning save to preserve the shutout. While the team fell to the Los Angeles Kings in the Final, Lundqvist helped create incredible moments that will not be forgotten.
“King Henrik” has accomplished so much more than just leading the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Final. In the first round of the 2012-13 playoffs, he helped the Rangers complete a comeback over the favored Capitals by shutting them out in Game 6, which the Rangers won 1-0, and Game 7, which the Rangers won 5-0. He led the team to the playoffs in 11 of his first 12 seasons, won six consecutive Game 7s, and holds a .922 save percentage with a 2.28 goals-against average in 128 career postseason games. He is the Rangers’ all-time regular-season leader in wins with 458.
I could write a book just on all of Lundqvist’s accomplishments, but those aren’t what I will remember when I think about him. I’ll remember the moments he created both on and off the ice. I’ll remember his work with the Garden of Dreams Foundation and the smiles he put on the faces of the children who met him. I’ll remember his acrobatic saves with the season on the line. I’ll remember him staying in the game and leading the team to a victory after getting hit in the throat with the puck.
Doctors later found out that Lundqvist had played with a sprained blood vessel, which could have become life-threatening without proper treatment. I’ll remember that all of the Rangers’ overtime playoff wins, comebacks, and Game 7 victories over the past 15 seasons would not have been possible without having “King Henrik” in goal. It has been a privilege to watch him play because every time he takes the ice, there is the possibility that he will do something spectacular: a diving save, a 50-save performance, or a shutout.
Lundqvist is a leader with an incredible work ethic and drive to win, who has played his best in the postseason. One day, his No. 30 will deservedly hang from the rafters at Madison Square Garden. There is no guarantee he will be a Ranger next season, so when he does get the nod in goal for them, rather than complaining about Lundqvist for what he no longer is, appreciate him for what he continues be, and for everything he has done for the Rangers.