NEW YORK, N.Y. – Henrik Lundqvist is the king of the New York Rangers record book for goalies.
He surged this season past Mike Richter’s mark for career wins (301) and dispatched Ed Giacomin on the shutout list (49).
The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup ring. That is the one area in which Richter still has him beat.
“The more pressure there is, the better he seems to perform. That’s what you want,” first-year Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “I know he wants to win the Cup. … We’re going to need him to be at his best, but this is a team game.”
King Henrik got off to a good start Thursday night when he and the Rangers beat the Flyers 4-1 in the first-round playoff opener. Philadelphia’s first shot got past Lundqvist and put the Flyers ahead, but he stopped the other 14 that came his way.
One win down, 15 to go to give the Rangers their first Stanley Cup championship in 20 years—which in Rangers history is not all that long since Richter and the 1994 squad led by Mark Messier ended a 54-year drought.
“Everybody wants to be known as a winner,” Vigneault said. “Hank is one of the best goaltenders in the league, and his stats are there to back it up.”
By all accounts, the 32-year-old Lundqvist is a driven hard worker, relentless in preparation and desire to be the best.
“His No. 1 quality is how hard he competes and how much he wants to win,” Vigneault said. “You can tell every time he steps on the ice—practices, games—the focus that he has, the amount of internal pressure he puts on himself to always be at a high level.
“The standards that he puts on himself are as high as any player that I have ever coached. That is why he has been in the elite goaltenders for the past 10 years.”
When he arrived from Sweden at 23, Lundqvist embraced the pressure of playing in New York and thrived on it, reveling in the city’s culture. He is a model of consistency and might already have enough credentials to ensure his jersey will be lifted to the Madison Square Garden rafters next to Richter’s even if he doesn’t deliver that championship.
“The passion that I have for this game and trying to get better and the emotions you feel when you play is something you live for,” Lundqvist said. “Those moments when you win a big game I can’t compare to anything else I have in my life when it comes to the adrenaline, the pressure, the excitement.
“You have moments throughout games and throughout seasons of where you’re like, ‘Wow. This is why I play.’ You don’t feel that every day. You don’t feel that always, but you have moments where you realize it’s all worth it.”
Lundqvist has 309 career regular-season wins and 50 shutouts. He is also the first goalie to reach at least 30 wins in eight of his first nine NHL seasons.
Lundqvist was chosen by the Rangers in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL draft—pick No. 205—when he was just 18. He remained in his native Sweden for the next several years and joined the Rangers for the first time in the 2005-06 season, making his NHL debut against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.
“Your mindset is just to establish yourself, and fighting for your life almost every day and try to prove yourself because they don’t really know what I’ve done in Sweden for five years,” Lundqvist said. “They don’t really care what I’ve done. It’s about here and it’s about now.
“It probably took me a couple of years before I felt comfortable and I knew that I had my role here.”
He stood out right away to John Davidson, a former Rangers goalie who backstopped the team to the 1979 Stanley Cup finals and then became a television analyst from 1986-2006. He broadcast games throughout Richter’s entire career and into the early stages of Lundqvist’s.
“I didn’t know a lot about him, but I remember when he came to the Rangers’ practice facility,” said Davidson, now the president of hockey operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I was standing on the glass the first day of camp, and I walked away three or four minutes after and I said, ‘There’s the goalie.’
“He was polished. His work habits were exceptional. He and Mike, the common denominator there is the ability to handle pressure and the ability to work hard.”