Henrik Lundqvist turns 38 today


AP Photo credit Flyers via Getty Images

A day later, Henrik Lundqvist blows out 38 candles on his birthday. You wonder what he’s feeling today after losing his first start since Feb. 3. In actuality, it was his first appearance since a brief substitution for rookie Igor Shestyorkin at Winnipeg last month. A game Shestyorkin returned in to win.

Once the franchise goalie of the Rangers with the most wins (459), shutouts (64) and games played (886), the proud veteran who was the backbone of three teams that made the Eastern Conference Final and one Stanley Cup Final, is now the third wheel behind Shestyorkin and Alex Georgiev.

It’s been a tough year for Lundqvist. While he might still be considered the King of the city, in actuality he’s the odd man out due to the current situation. A season removed from basically splitting duty with then rookie Georgiev, who put up better numbers in the second half, Lundqvist has fallen to third on the depth chart. A far cry from the glory days when King Henrik was the benchmark for NHL goalies.

The former Vezina winner is now the current backup goalie behind Georgiev due to Shestyorkin recovering from a rib fracture suffered in a car accident last week. Astonishingly, he’s already practicing with the team where the Russian netminder is taking low shots. He can’t face high ones yet. The team will reassess his injury in another week. It’s a two to four week prognosis.

Anyone knew there was no way Georgiev could play every game. After winning the first two starts in Shestyorkin’s place against the Islanders and Canadiens, he lost to the Flyers on Friday. That made it three starts over four days. Yesterday was Lundqvist’s chance as March began. A day before his birthday, it couldn’t have gone any worse. He allowed five goals on 26 shots in a Flyers 5-3 win at MSG.

The game wasn’t even two minutes old when Matt Niskanen buried a rebound with Lundqvist out of position on the initial shot. The Flyers made rookie defenseman Ryan Lindgren pay for a bad penalty 23 seconds in.

More penalty trouble led to Lundqvist giving up a bad rebound off a Jake Voracek shot that Sean Couturier easily buried for a 2-0 deficit less than 12 minutes in. One of two penalties Ryan Strome took. Before the period was out, Strome was knocked off the puck causing a Flyers two on none with Derek Grant feeding Michael Raffl for a shorthanded goal.

Grant would catch Lundqvist out of his net less than two minutes into the second by easily putting home a backhand past the over committed goalie who never looked comfortable. Just like that, the game for all intents and purposes was over.

The Blueshirts trailed 4-0 in less than 22 minutes in Lundqvist’s return. When it was over, he would go on to admit he wasn’t very good. That it didn’t go as he had hoped. The team took some penalties which hurt their chances. That much is true. They weren’t disciplined enough and the penalty kill was lousy. There was too much standing around.

Even though they rallied with two more power play goals in the third from Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad, it wasn’t enough to overcome a 5-1 deficit against a good Flyers team that won for the sixth straight time. They were by far the better team and continue to apply the pressure on the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin scored twice in a one goal win Sunday night. They lead the division by three points over the Flyers.

With the Blues in town tomorrow and the Caps later this week, you have to believe Georgiev will get the call for those two games. The Devils are the last game on the schedule for the week. What David Quinn decides will determine who plays. He’s handled a difficult situation as well as can be asked.

It isn’t easy for Lundqvist to go from the Rangers meal ticket to leftovers. With a cap hit of $8.5 million through next year, he’s a candidate to get bought out this summer. A far cry from where he was following the 2017 Playoffs. His last hurrah.

There’s also this. Following his best save yesterday which was a great glove stop to bail out Marc Staal, there wasn’t much reaction to it.

Normally, it’s customary for teammates to tap a goalie for such a big save. Even if it was with the team still down a lot, that strikes me as odd. What exactly is the relationship between the elder statesman Lundqvist and the rest of the team?

When you watch the way the reporters are around him, they’re very careful with what they ask. It’s almost like they’re walking on eggshells. For better or worse, Lundqvist is treated differently. Even now with him clearly out of his prime looking in dire need of a change this late in his career, he’s treated like royalty.

Does it rub teammates the wrong way? This is a guy who voiced his displeasure at some of those guys after he allowed goals. Even the great Martin Brodeur did it when the Devils weren’t as good. But you never saw him bury players in any interviews.

Maybe King Henrik being bigger than the team has been bad for the Blueshirts. It might explain why they seem to play harder in recent years for backups. It dates back to Cam Talbot, who helped his former team by blanking the Panthers last night. However, the Blue Jackets rallied for four straight goals in a 5-3 win over the Canucks to increase their lead to four over the Blueshirts.

It’s definitely a strange time for Lundqvist. He’s not the man anymore. Gone are the days where he stood on his head and was the centerpiece for some very good teams that went far in the Spring. The numbers are still good. A 2.43 GAA and .918 career save percentage are excellent. In his postseason career, he’s 61-65 with a 2.28, .922 and 10 shutouts. Statistics that should one day make him a Hall of Famer.

So, how is he celebrating his birthday? A family man who loves the city and all that it offers, you have to think a night out on the town could do wonders for his psyche. It’s not ending the way he envisioned. However, most great careers don’t end well.

What does the future hold for number 30? Might he wind up chasing a Cup in a different jersey? One never knows. He is not the young 23-year old anymore who wowed New Yorkers in ’05-06. He’s a older 38-year old veteran with the gray beard.

Things sure do change. In a New York minute.

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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