The moment was coming. It took a little longer than expected. But now Henrik Lundqvist finally has win number 400. The King of New York did it by making 32 saves in his 17th consecutive start. A come from behind 4-2 Rangers victory over the Avalanche at MSG before adoring fans who chanted, “Hen-rik! Hen-rik! Hen-rik!”
Ever since his rookie season in ’05-06, there was something special about the affable Swede the club took in the seventh round 205th overall of the 2000 NHL Draft. He had a flair and the personality that New York City identifies with. It was a match made in heaven. Who knew all this time later Lundqvist would hold franchise marks in games played (727), wins (400) and shutouts (61)?
There is the Swedish King who’s been the backbone of the Blueshirts for over a decade, carrying them to the postseason in 10 of his first 11 seasons. He’s won at least 30 in 10 of those 11 with only the shortened season of 2013 the lone exception. With win number 26 in what’s been a challenging 12th year, he’s inching closer to another season of 30 or more on Broadway.
In winning his 400th in game 727, Lundqvist is the fastest to 400 in NHL history. Helped of course by the post-tie era, he’s still a model of consistency. Without number 30, the Rangers wouldn’t have reached three Final Fours including a dramatic run to their first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years. They wouldn’t have rallied back in consecutive postseasons from 3-1 series deficits to stun the Penguins and Capitals in unreal second rounds. They wouldn’t be the team we’ve appreciated.
Before Henrik, the Rangers were a laughingstock. They had missed the playoffs in seven straight seasons before the lockout canceled 2004-05. Then hockey returned and Jaromir Jagr guaranteed the playoffs when most panelists picked the team to finish 30th. Credit Tom Renney for changing the attitude behind the bench. Also credit Glen Sather, who made several key additions building the team around Jagr to turn them around. The glory days of Jagr, Martin Straka, Michael Nylander, Martin Rucinsky, Petr Prucha, Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival feel like a lifetime ago. With Renney behind the bench and other fan favorites Jed Ortmeyer and Dominic Moore, those teams were fun to root for. Credit Kevin Weekes for playing a key role in helping Lundqvist become the rock star in net.
An underdog rag tag group of Blueshirts nearly upset the Sabres in the 2007 Conference Semifinals before falling short in a compelling six-game series. After Renney fell out of favor, John Tortorella took over and turned the group into the Black and Blueshirts. A team that sacrificed life and limb by blocking shots led by current Rangers Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Both who are still here along with captain Ryan McDonagh, who had a milestone of his own reaching 30 assists for the first time in a regular season.
The ’11-12 season remains a highlight for Lundqvist, who posted career bests in wins (39) goals-against-average (1.97) and save percentage (.930) with eight shutouts to win his only Vezina. That team of classic overachievers featuring Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov along with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust plus Michael Del Zotto wound up with the East’s best record. Backstopped by Lundqvist, they came back to defeat the Senators in seven and edged the Caps in seven to make their first Conference Final since ’97. They lost in six to the Devils.
After Tortorella lost the room, Alain Vigneault took over for the ’13-14 season. A more up tempo coach who emphasizes team speed, skill and transition, the French Canadian has fit in well recently winning his 600th game during the Rangers’ five-game winning streak. He gave the credit to the players he’s had. A core still featuring Lundqvist, McDonagh, Girardi, Staal along with a strong cast up front that includes Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller along with newcomers Mika Zibanejad, Michael Grabner, Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey have the ’16-17 Rangers in good playoff position. A deeper team that also includes Nick Holden, Brady Skjei, Kevin Klein, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast.
At the moment, it’s unknown where they’ll wind up. They have the unenviable task of playing in the league’s best division. Remarkably, the Rangers remain fourth behind Metro leader Washington with Columbus and Pittsburgh tied in points with 75 two up on the Rangers, who hold down the first wildcard. In other words, depending where they wind up could determine how far they could go. If they wind up with the first wildcard, they would get to go through the Atlantic which might be an advantage. If not, all bets are off.
However, make no mistake about it. This night is about one man. Someone who’s been there win or loss. No matter how tough the defeat, Lundqvist has always been accountable. He’s always answered questions from reporters. At 34 soon to be 35 in less than a month, will he ever bring a Stanley Cup back to Manhattan? It’s going to be a daunting task. Especially with the Pens and Caps looking very tough along with the Blue Jackets.
For once, the Rangers picked up their goalie after he let in a tough one to John Mitchell which put them down 2-1 after two periods to the NHL’s worst team. But in the third, his teammates showed resiliency on a Klein’s second of the night off some strong work from Fast and Lindberg to tie the score.
It was Nash who redirected home his 16th from Stepan, who made a bullet pass to the side that put them up for good a couple of minutes later. McDonagh started the play to pick up his 30th assist of the season. The first time he’s hit 30 in a single season. A nice achievement for the hard working captain who has so much responsibility anchoring the blue line.
To their credit, the Avalanche came hard. They didn’t mail it in. Instead, they attacked the Rangers forcing Lundqvist into some acrobatic saves. He stopped all 17 shots in a busy third to earn number 400.
A great defensive play from who else but Miller broke up a Matt Duchene pass across. He fed Grabner, who patiently held the puck before feeding an open Hayes for the insurance marker with 1:38 remaining. That line would come through defensively because they have been the one constant. So dependable. Give the trio the Steven McDonald Award. Let them share it. He would be proud.
What followed were a couple of more saves from Lundqvist to the familiar serenade of “Hen-rik! Hen–rik! Hen—rik!”
When the buzzer sounded, he pumped his fist in victory and saluted the crowd after coming out for the game’s first star, pointing to his heart as if to say, “I love you.”
The feeling is mutual.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (2 assists, 5-and-5 on face-offs, +2 in 11 even strength shifts-played well in 8:11 and solidified himself as fourth line center)
2nd Star-Kevin Klein, NYR (2 goals-2nd, 3rd inc. tying marker, 4 shots, 5 hits, +3 in 26 shifts-19:49)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (32 saves incl. 17/17 in 3rd for win number 400-1st ever European goalie to reach milestone doing it in 727 games)