Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was absolutely off-the-charts good in the Rangers’ first-round series against Montreal. He gave up just 11 goals in six games, including one shutout and only two games when he gave up three or more goals. In one of them, game 2, the Blueshirts were less than 20 seconds away from a 3-2 win when the most feared Canadien, Alexander Radulov, put a puck past Lundqvist. Henrik’s disgust with that goal and ensuing loss was palpable. No question, Lundqvist hates to lose.
We have been watching him “hate to lose” since the fall of 2005, when the then 23-year-old took over New York’s goaltending reigns. For most of that time, Lundqvist has been incredible between the pipes; his best season was in 2011-12, when, in 82 regular season and playoff games, Henrik had a combined goals against average (GAA) of under 2.00.
Lundqvist was much of the reason that the Rangers have made the playoffs five out of the last six years–his steady glove, head saves, and kick saves have been stellar. But it was not so this season, when The King had a just about an NHL average 2.74 GAA and 91.00 save percentage in 57 regular season games. There was even some talk among fans (and sportswriters) that Antti Raanta was the better netminder and should start against Montreal. Henrik (and the Rangers’ coaching staff) scoffed, of course, and he began the series between the pipes.
Although absolutely magnificent in the first (and last) game against Montreal, and excellent in the others, the question remain as to which Lundqvist will show up to play against Ottawa in round two, and game after game should the Rangers get beyond the Sens. It could be as many as 21 more games to win the Stanley Cup. That’s a lot of minutes between the pipes for a 35-year-old who had just an average season.
So, I thought I would look at the record of another great New York/New Jersey area goaltender, Marty Brodeur, at approximately the same age to see if I could glean any edifying information. During the 2005-06 season, when Brodeur was 34, he appeared in 73 regular season games, with a 2.57 GAA and 91.1 save percentage. That season, Brodeur put up some of the worst numbers of his career, but he came back in the playoffs to do very well (the Devils made it into the second round and Brodeur had a 2.25 GAA and 92.3% sv). And, then came back and had several great seasons after New Jersey’s 2006 second-round playoff loss to the eventual Stanley Cup winning, Carolina Hurricanes.
Will Henrik have the same kind of full career that Marty had? No one knows, but it is hard to argue that Lundqvist has not been at least close to Brodeur in talent and production over the years. What looking at both their careers shows is that one average (okay, for Lundqvist, bad) regular season is not predictive of future success or failure. It is not even predictive of what kind of playoffs that not-so-average average netminder will have in a long post-season. Just as an example, after 2005-06, Brodeur went on to have an outstanding 2006-07 campaign, and then, five years later, at age 40, took New Jersey all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
So, to all the now convinced, but recent naysayers, I say, if he stays healthy, Lundqvist likely still has quite a bit of goaltending glory ahead of him. No one knows if that glory will be revealed against the Rangers’ next opponent, the Ottawa Senators. But, if I was a betting woman (I am not, except my very infrequent foray into Draft Kings), I would bet that Lundqvist is just as focused and effective as he was against Montreal. And he carries the Rangers on his back to round 3.