By Steven Simineri
What a difference a day makes. On Friday night, Knicks fans showed up to Madison Square Garden for the team’s game against the Nuggets chanting “Free Oakley” and holding up signs in favor of the New York basketball icon. But at the Garden on Saturday, chants of “Henrik … Henrik” filled the building during the final minutes of the Rangers 4-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
“I’m going to tell you that the last couple of minutes you hear the crowd, you get goosebumps, and it was just like my first game here when they chanted my name,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who became the 12th goaltender in NHL history to reach the 400-win milestone. “That was 12 years ago.”
The 34-year old Swede, who had recently become the N.H.L.’s winningest European-born goaltender when he passed Dominik Hasek with his 390th victory, became the third goalie to get 400 wins with one franchise – the other two are Martin Brodeur (Devils) and Tony Esposito (Blackhawks). “The King” also became the fastest goalie to hit the total, doing so in 727 games – Brodeur, the next-fastest, needed 735 appearances to reach the plateau.
But Lundqvist has played his entire career in the shootout era, which means, unlike other goalies on the 400-win list, he has no ties on his record.
Among goalies who have notched 400 victories, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall and Grant Fuhr are in the Hall of Fame. Brodeur, the all-time leader with 691 wins, will be joining them when he’s eligible in 2018. Lundqvist now sits one win behind Chris Osgood and by the end of this season he should be approaching Esposito’s 423 wins, which rank eighth on the career list. Fuhr (403) and Hall (407) are both within reach.
Saturday’s 32-save victory was the eighth in 10 starts for Lundqvist since getting torched by the Dallas Stars for seven goals on Jan 17. He has gone 8-1/.938/2.01 in those appearances and is hitting a nice groove after being previously booed by the Garden faithful during an unprecedented stretch of mediocre play. But for a guy drafted in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Draft, Lundqvist has done pretty well for himself.
Lundqvist has two Olympic medals, 55 career playoff victories, more wins than any other goaltender in Rangers history and a team-record 61 shutouts. He is the only goalie in NHL history to record ten 30-win campaigns in his first 11 seasons, and he’s on his way to eclipsing that mark again this season.
With four years remaining on his contract after this season, it’s likely that Lundqvist will end his career in New York, with his jersey hanging in the Madison Square Garden rafters soon after.
While Lundqvist is unquestionably one of the greatest players in franchise history and his face is on billboards in New York, he still remains a King without a crown and the Rangers remain a team without a Stanley Cup since 1994. Including the post-season, Lundqvist has a total of 843 games on his odometer and he isn’t getting any younger.
With his 35th birthday approaching on March 2, Lundqvist is playing for his legacy and the question becomes will he finish his career in New York as the Patrick Ewing of the Rangers, a great player who might never be truly recognized for his greatness because he never won it all?
The ironic thing is how similar Lundqvist’s Rangers are to the Ewing lunch-pail teams of the 90’s, consistently very good teams that always just come up short. In Ewing’s 15 seasons in New York, the Knicks made the playoffs 13 times, the conference finals four times and the NBA Finals twice.
Meanwhile, the Blueshirts are well on their way to the playoffs for the seventh straight time and 11th time in a 12-year span in which stability has reigned over James Dolan’s “other” team.
Instead of analyzing his place in history, Lundqvist would rather consider teammates through the years that have helped him get to this point. He’s picked up wins behind Nylander and Nash, Rucchin and Rucinsky, Kasparaitis and Korpikoski, Fedotenko and Fast, Strudwick and Hunwick, Gaborik and Gilroy, Prospal and Poti.
Through it all, the one true thing that has endured is Lundqvist.
“I’m just really proud and really thankful for the opportunity,” Lundqvist told reporters after Saturday’s game. “This organization means so much to me. I will definitely enjoy this tonight and reflect a little bit. I had a lot of good teammates and you think back to them because they’re part of it as well.”
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