New York Rangers fans were heartbroken about the loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday. But no one was sadder than goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The 33-year-old Swede did what he could in order to get the Rangers back to the Stanley Cup Final, but didn’t get any support from the Blueshirts’ offense. With Lundqvist getting up there in age, one has to wonder if he will end up being one of the better goalies never to win a Cup.
“King Henrik” had some troubles in Game 2 and 3 against the Lightning, letting in 12 goals total, but he bounced back with a couple of brilliant displays and once again showed his competitive spirit. There’s no doubt that he’s one of, if not the best, goaltender in the NHL of the past decade… but he has yet to win a Stanley Cup.
He ended this particular playoff run with a 2.11 GAA and a .928 SV%, so the numbers are there.
He had a couple of magnificent saves in Game 7, but the Rangers’ offense was lackluster and was shut out by Ben Bishop. This was Lundqvist’s first loss in five Game 7’s at Madison Square Garden. It shows just how good he has been when everything is on the line, and seeing him on the bench after the Rangers lost with that blank stare must have been emotional for many.
He’s not only the King of Manhattan, but he’s also a demi-god in his native Sweden, with many people wishing he would get another chance to win a Stanley Cup. He’s made many Swedes into Rangers fans, and even people who necessarily aren’t Rangers fans wants him to do well.
“It’s painful right now, it really is,” Lundqvist told the NY Times after the game. “You put your heart and soul into this entire year to try and get back and get an opportunity to play in the final, and we were 20 minutes away.”
The crowd at Madison Square Garden chanted Lundqvist’s name after the game to show their appreciation, and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was quick to praise him after the game.
“Lundqvist played unbelievable,” Stamkos said. “It easily could have been more than two.”
Lundqvist still has a few good years left in him, but it’s not unreasonable to think that he might not have many chances left at winning hockey’s ultimate price. He is still in his prime, but we’ve seen great goaltenders drop off significantly when they get into their mid-30’s.
The Rangers still have a good team, and they were only one strong period away from being in the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight season, so there’s still time left for Lundqvist & Co. to make it. They will have to try and bolster the lineup a little and get some proven playoff performers, as intended leaders Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis were a big disappointment for the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.
St. Louis is a pending UFA and at 39 it might be for the better if New York said goodbye to him and go for someone like the Los Angeles Kings’ Justin Williams instead.
The Eastern Conference is getting more and more competitive, and with teams like Tampa Bay that is stacked with young offensive talent, it will become more difficult to make it back to the Final.
Lundqvist is a future Hall of Fame player, and will also have a special place among the Rangers faithful, but in order to be considered one of the best of all time he will have to win the Cup.
Having talked to Lundqvist on a couple of occasions and knowing what a fierce competitor he is, he will take the loss hard, break down and then come back even hungrier next season. It’s now up to general manager Glen Sather to find a way to add some offensive pieces to get them over the last hump.
The Rangers core is good with Lundqvist as the backbone, and players like Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider and Nash (at least during the regular season), but it feels like they are a goalscorer or two away from being able to go all the way.