The King of the 50 Club

Henrik Lundqvist is still a champion. The King may not have a Stanley Cup ring but he remains the ultimate team leader of the now rebuilding Rangers. On his 36th birthday Friday night in Calgary, he made history by becoming the first goalie since Gump Worsley in 1963 to make 50 saves in consecutive games.

The best part is he went into the record books by winning both starts to become the first ever goalie to accomplish the feat since the NHL started recording saves. After defeating Vancouver in the first game on a Northwestern Canadian three-game road swing, he stood on his head to backstop the defensively challenged younger Blueshirts to a 3-1 win over the Flames.

When it was over, a jubilant Lundqvist raised his arms skyward as he got a hug from Brady Skjei and plenty of kudos from every teammate. This was a absolutely scintillating performance by a future Hall of Famer who never backs down. It would be easy to considering where this team has been. He’s not used to facing the amount of volume shots and quality scoring chances in a rebuild. But there was the franchise netminder standing tall to heavy pressure from a desperate Flames who only beat him once on 51 shots.

Most impressive remains his attitude. Despite never being on a team where management opted to be sellers even sending out a letter to fans and holding a public press conference, Lundqvist approaches each game the same. He always stays positive and wants to be the difference between winning and losing. This is a prideful man who has embraced the challenge in the face of adversity. It’s what makes him special.

February was not a fun month with all the rumors prior to last week’s deadline. It had to have a negative impact on the team. The way they performed showed it. The added stress of knowing they were losing valuable teammates such as Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and captain Ryan McDonagh who had given so much to the cause couldn’t have been easy. That included Nick Holden, who was used on the top pair out of necessity by coach Alain Vigneault due to a flawed roster. Holden now plays less on Boston and has recently gotten into the lineup and contributed two assists in recent wins. It’s a bit odd to see Nash and him celebrating Bruins goals. But that’s the harsh reality for Garden Faithful.

Wait till the Rangers visit Tampa on Thursday where as many as five former players could be dressed. That includes McDonagh, who has hinted that he should be finally ready to go for his Lightning debut. With familiar partner Dan Girardi plus old teammates Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and J.T. Miller, it’ll feel like a homecoming. Almost as if he never left. It’ll definitely be a weird game.

It’s funny how sports works sometimes. Following the end of the road for McDonagh which brought back talented center Vladislav Namenstinikov along with two good prospects, a first round pick and conditional pick, the new look Blueshirts have managed to reel off three straight wins. Even with Lundqvist facing a heavy volume of shots (55 against the Canucks and 51 against the Flames), they scored timely goals to come away with victories. Followed by a strong cameo from new backup Alexandar Georgiev at Edmonton, they swept the three-game Northwestern Canadian road trip.

Mika Zibanejad finally found the back of the net tallying twice including his team best 10th power play goal along with a rare even strength goal. Pavel Buchnevich also scored finally after going cold for 10 games. Chris Kreider’s return has given the top line some added juice. The power forward has brought his combination of speed, strength and net presence. He scored his first goal in five games since coming back and feels good.

Along with solid play from youngsters John Gilmour (overtime winner) and Neal Pionk, things are looking up. They host the Winnipeg Jets tonight at MSG. We’ll see if they can keep it going.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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