Kukla's Korner

Goal Line Report

A King and an Ace

When Mike Richter suffered a concussion early in the 2002-03 season, the New York Rangers knew they were in trouble. Sure, they had youngster Dan Blackburn as a capable backup but nothing close to an elite netminder who could handle everyday life in the National Hockey League.

It would be that way for the rest of the season as the Blueshirts became a revolving door for goaltenders such as Blackburn, Mike Dunham and Jussi Markannen. However, when the lockout ended and play resumed in 2005-06, there was a new masked man in town that would change the culture of the Rangers to this day forward.

His name is Henrik Lundqvist, a Swedish goaltender that was drafted 205th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Lundqvist enjoyed much success in Sweden with Frolunda, especially in the season prior to coming to the NHL when he was 33-8-3 with six shutouts and a stellar 1.79 goals against average.

However, even with stellar numbers overseas, Lundqvist was not a guarantee to make the club’s roster in 2005-06. The team’s plan was to start Kevin Weekes in goal and give the backup position to either Blackburn, who was coming off shoulder surgery but had over two years of experience with the big club, or Lundqvist, a wide-eyed rookie who went in hoping to surprise people.

Lundqvist certainly surprised people in his rookie season by winning 30 games, posting a 2.24 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts. With Lundqvist between the pipes and Jaromir Jagr returning to vintage form, the Rangers eclipsed the 100 point mark, clinched a playoff spot for the first time in seven seasons and more importantly, put themselves back on the map as a top hockey club.

While Jagr had a lot to do with the team’s overall success, it was Lundqvist that gave them the opportunity to win games by making the key saves, controlling rebounds, helping out his defensemen and by playing like a veteran. His play earned him a Vezina Trophy nomination, a spot on the NHL’s All-Rookie Team, and more importantly, the trust of the fans who hailed him as “The King”.

With Lundqvist in net and Jagr being Jagr, the Rangers became a team that players wanted to play for. The following season, Brendan Shanahan signed as a free-agent because he thought that with Lundqvist in net and Jagr returning to his all-star self, the Rangers were now a Stanley Cup contender.

In the 2006-07 season, Lundqvist proved once again why he was the team’s most valuable player as he appeared in 70 games, notched 37 victories, posted a 2.34 goals against average and a .917 save percentage and picked up five shutouts. His play during the last two month’s of the season got the team into the playoffs for the second consecutive year as the team came within two victories of beating the league’s best Buffalo Sabres to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Once again, Lundqvist showed that he could be counted on to win big games and showed that there was life after Richter, who did it all for the Blueshirts from 1990-91 to the beginning of the 2002 season. Although the team was inconsistent in other areas, Lundqvist was always their ace in the hole and with Lundqvist, the team was no longer a walk over.

The 2007-08 season was much of the same for the Blueshirts. They signed two big free agents in the summer in Chris Drury and Scott Gomez and while they weren’t tremendous, Shanahan was slow, Jagr was not on his game, it was Lundqvist who picked them up and once again willed them into the playoffs. The “King” once again notched 37 victories, had a 2.23 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and 10 shutouts, picking up his third straight Vezina Trophy nomination as the league’s top goaltender. Not only did he do that, but he helped his club defeat the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.

That brings us to today where Lundqvist has done what he has done since the beginning of his NHL career: win and supply consistent goaltending. While this year’s team has had a lot of trouble scoring goals, Lundqvist has done a solid job of keeping them out and has given his team a chance to win hockey games.

The Blueshirts may go into each season with a different hand of cards but one card that they will have for years to come is an Ace and a King, Henrik Lundqvist.


Filed in: | Goal Line Report | Permalink
  Tags: buffalo+sabres, chris+drury, dan+blackburn, henrik+lundqvist, jaromir+jagr, jussi+markkanen, mike+dunham, mike+richter, new+jersey+devils, pittsburgh+penguins, scott+gomez


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About Goal Line Report

Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.

Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.

For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com.

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