How not to play in your 800th game

Henrik Lundqvist is a lot of things. For over a decade, the successful 2000 seventh round pick who came over from Frolunda where he won a championship in Sweden has been a rock for this franchise. Already the Rangers’ record holder in wins (430) and shutouts (63) along with total minutes, the King is a future Hall of Famer who’s guided the team to the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons.

That includes three trips to the Eastern Conference Final and the franchise’s only return to the Stanley Cup in 2014. Had they won 20 years after the memorable ’94 championship, it would’ve been storybook. Instead, they fell short of their ultimate goal in the closest five-game series you ever saw. Then came the kick to the groin at home in Game 7 against Tampa a year later.

This will be only the second season a Lundqvist led team will fail to qualify for the postseason. The first that is out of it before the fateful final game of the ’09-10 season losing in a shootout to the hated Flyers. Olli Jokinen still haunts Blueshirts fans.

Even with a early vacation coming this Spring if it ever gets here, the 36-year old Lundqvist has accomplished a lot. With the team about to be eliminated, there’s nothing to play for. However, this is a passionate man with a lot of pride. Following Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the red hot Blue Jackets, who are now winners of nine straight entering a critical match tomorrow against the Panthers, Lundqvist remains at 25 wins in ’17-18. With nine games left, it’s unlikely he’ll reach 30 for the 12th time in 14 seasons.

After seeing him get bowled over on a freakish collision with John Gilmour and Matt Calvert where he landed on his head, what’s the point in playing him? I get that he wants to play and remains as competitive as ever. Similar to Martin Brodeur, Lundqvist has that unique quality of never wanting to miss a start. Of course, you can’t compare him to arguably the all-time greatest. But his desire to win is unquestioned.

At this point with the Rangers playing out the remainder of the schedule, it would be better off giving Alexandar Georgiev the bulk of the starts. He’s shown no reason not to play him. Even with the defense and forwards continuing to struggle in the rebuild, the 22-year old has been unflappable. He’s made plenty of good saves in his seven appearances winning three while posting a identical 2.94 goals-against-average with a .922 save percentage.

They may as well see what they have. Alexandar The Great or Gorgy as I like to call him looks like a keeper. He very well could be the backup next season. He has a calm presence in net and doesn’t seem to lose focus despite facing the same crazy workload Lundqvist has dealt with.

Given how he performed in his return last night in his 800th career game, Lundqvist can use a extended vacation. This isn’t to pin it all on him. We’ve seen this team enough to know they can’t defend to save their life. So, you get easy goals like the one Alexander Wennberg scored in the first with no one covering him and Mats Zuccarello caught in no man’s land trying for a block.

Since acquiring Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole at the trade deadline, Columbus has been a different team. They score goals in bunches. In winning their ninth in a row, they have catapulted from a fringe playoff team to being tied in points (87) with the Pens, who somehow managed to lose in Brooklyn to the Islanders 4-1. They now look like a playoff lock even though they are one up on the Flyers and five clear of the stumbling Devils with the Panthers up to 81 in the race for the wildcard.

It’s no longer just Artemi Panarin that opponents must worry about. Vanek has formed good chemistry with Wennberg and Nick Foligno on the top line allowing Panarin to play second line and get favorable match-ups. He recorded his second hat trick this season along with a helper for a four point night. Both hat tricks have come against the Blueshirts. In eight career games dating back to his days spent in Chicago, the Bread Man now has scored 10 times against the Rangers.

Even though they made mistakes against a good opponent which didn’t help Lundqvist, the Rangers still competed hard. After falling behind 2-0, Kevin Hayes scored a shorthanded goal. Jesper Fast caused a turnover and fed Hayes for a breakaway which the Steven McDonald candidate finished to add to his career high with number 21.

More defensive ineptitude allowed Markus Nutivaara to restore a two-goal lead a few minutes into the third. But the Rangers stayed hot on the power play. Mika Zibanejad continues his brilliant play rifling home his career high 25th from the left circle for his team best 13th power play goal from Neal Pionk and Pavel Buchnevich. Pionk has 10 points (all assists) in his last 10 games. Zibanejad has goals in four of the last five including five tallies in the last three. He’s 6-3-9 over five and 8-4-12 in the last nine.

Trailing 3-2, the Rangers couldn’t get out of their own way. On a odd man rush with only Pionk back, Cam Atkinson got a shot off which Lundqvist thought he had covered at the left side of the crease. Unaware that the puck was loose right in front of him, he watched Panarin sneak in, grab the rebound and flip a backhand into a open net for the game-winner. It was brutal. You also had four other Rangers in the picture puck watching. A sad example of how it’s gone.

There also was a scary moment when Columbus had a shorthanded rush with Lundqvist wandering out to stop Calvert as the Columbus forward, Gilmour and Lundqvist collided with our goalie basically flipping over and taking a hard landing that was scary. He stayed down for a while but got up and didn’t exit the game. Not everyone thought it was a good decision.

I do wonder why even let him continue following that. He admitted to being in pain afterwards. What’s the point? These games don’t matter.

Of course, the team came back again with Chris Kreider parking himself in front of Sergei Bobrovsky to neatly redirect a Brady Skjei wide point shot in for a power play goal that made it 4-3 with 1:52 left. A really skilled play by a improving power forward who’s been terrific since returning from a rib resection due to a blood clot. Ryan Sproul added a secondary helper.

But the last ditch comeback effort was for naught. A turnover at the Columbus blueline allowed Panarin to fire his third into a vacated net as one hat flew onto the ice for his 25th.

Notes: The Rangers held a 32-31 shots edge including outshooting the Blue Jackets 14-7 in the third. Columbus outshot then 12-9 in each of the first two periods. … Columbus blocked 24 shots. … Power Play: CBJ 0-2 NYR 2-4. … Bobrovsky made 29 saves including 25 of 25 at even strength. Lundqvist finished with 26 saves stopping 24 of 28 at even strength. … Vladislav Namestnikov has no points with a minus-four rating in his last three. Ryan Spooner is without a point in three and minus-three. … With nine games left, 2017 ninth overall pick Lias Andersson could come up from Hartford. He can only play in nine games and not burn off a year of his ELC. He could be a possibility for tomorrow’s match in Philly. … NYR signed recently acquired D prospect Ryan Lindgren. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher was part of the Rick Nash deal with Boston. … Former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky was a healthy scratch with no points in his last 17.

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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