I remember Oct. 5, 2005 like it was yesterday.
The Rangers — who had missed the postseason for seven consecutive seasons — were in Philadelphia to open their 2005-06 campaign against the Flyers. The Blueshirts had not played in 551 days due to the lockout which wiped out the 2004-05 season. It was Dave Maloney‘s first game as my full-time broadcast partner on MSG Radio. And a 23-year-old goaltender named Henrik Lundqvist wore the Ranger jersey for the first time in a regular season game.
At the time, Blueshirt faithful did not know much about Lundqvist, who led Frolunda to the Swedish Championship and was named league MVP during the previous season. He was an under-the-radar, seventh-round draft pick (205th overall) by the Rangers in June 2000. He’s one of the most important and best draft picks in the history of the franchise (along with Brian Leetch). There were 21 goaltenders drafted before Lundqvist in Calgary. Eight went on to play in the NHL. Thirteen did not, including Brandon Snee of Union College, selected by the Rangers in the fifth round (62 selections ahead of Lundqvist).
The Rangers drafted goalies with top 10 overall picks in the first round in 2001 (Dan Blackburn – 10th overall) and 2004 (Al Montoya – 6th overall). At various times, both were regarded as the future between the pipes in New York. Blackburn played in only 63 NHL games before retiring due to injury. Montoya spent three seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack, but never played a game with the Rangers. He was dealt away at the 2008 trade deadline.
Weekes started the first two games of the 2005-06 season, but it did not take long for Lundqvist to take over the No. 1 role. Lundqvist made his NHL debut on Oct. 8 in New Jersey, allowing a Brian Rafalski overtime goal. Including that game, he started nine of the next 11. Lundqvist would go on to start 50 games during his rookie season, Weekes 32. The Rangers made the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Oh, by the way … Lundqvist also led Sweden to Olympic gold in Torino four days shy of his 24th birthday.
Henrik has said that after signing his first Ranger contract in July 2005, one of his main thoughts regarded living arrangements in Hartford. He never made it to the Nutmeg State.
Fast forward to Feb. 11, 2017, when The King recorded career win No. 400 in a Ranger uniform.
He became the 12th goaltender to reach that mark, and only the third to win 400 with one franchise (along with Tony Esposito and Martin Brodeur, both named to the NHL 100 last month). Lundqvist’s career statistics through Saturday’s milestone victory: 727 games, 400 wins, 2.30 GAA, .920 save percentage, 61 shutouts, 55 playoff wins, 10 playoff series wins. The Rangers used 15 different goaltenders during the seven-year playoff drought/pre-Lundqvist era. Their combined numbers: 574 games, 215 wins, 3.02 GAA, .899, 16 shutouts, 0 playoff games.
Lundqvist reflected on his career in New York following Saturday’s win over Colorado. “I’m just really proud and I’m really thankful for that opportunity,” he said. “This organization means so much to me and they’ve given me this opportunity to play a lot of hockey. It’s been 12 years where I’ve been getting a lot of starts and I had a lot of good teammates throughout the years and you think back to them right now obviously because they’re part of it as well. I will definitely enjoy this tonight and kind of reflect a little bit before you go back to work tomorrow morning.”
Lundqvist is THE major reason why the Rangers have been a playoff team for 10 of his first 11 seasons. The only time the Rangers missed during that span was in 2010, following a Game 82 shootout loss in Philly. So, Henrik Lundqvist has NEVER played a meaningless game in his NHL career. He has led the Blueshirts to three Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final over the last five seasons. There is no doubt that No. 30 will one day be raised to the rafters at The World’s Most Famous Arena.
Henrik’s work ethic is second to none. I will never forget a visit I made to the MSG Training Center in August 2012. Despite the looming threat of another lockout (which would delay the start of the 2012-13 season to late January), Lundqvist was on the ice along with then-teammate Michael del Zotto during the late morning. They took part in skating drills, followed by del Zotto shooting hundreds of pucks at The King. Lundqvist worked as hard that day as he would prepare for Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final.
Derek Stepan has marveled at the man he has played in front of for the last seven seasons. “Since I’ve been here, he’s been our best player every single year,” he said. “To get a milestone like that, I know it means a lot to him. Our group is really happy for him. He competes every single day and that’s what it takes to have success in this league. It’s really cool to see and I’m happy for him.”
As are the millions of Ranger fans who have had the good fortune to watch Henrik Lundqvist stop pucks over the last 12 seasons.