The night that Rangers fans have circled on the Calendar has finally arrived as the Blueshirts will raise Henrik Lundqvist’s name to the rafters at Madison Square Garden (6:30 P.M. EST, MSG+).
|5th||NHL Standing Rank||11th|
Retiring a player’s number and their name forever in the rafters is one of the greatest honors a sports athlete could ever achieve. Henrik Lundqvist will receive this honor on Friday night in front of a jammed-packed Madison Square Garden (MSG). His name will forever live in The World’s Most Famous Arena.
Swedish Hockey League
Lundqvist was drafted in the seventh round by the Rangers with the 205th overall selection in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Prior to making his debut in the NHL, Lundqvist played five seasons overseas in Sweden. It took him some time to establish himself in Sweden but once he did, he dominated the league and made his own path to the NHL. Lundqvist had a historical season with Frolunda on his way to becoming an SHL (Swedish Hockey League) champion during the 2004-2005 SHL season. The then 22-year-old started 44 games in the regular season and recorded a .936 save percentage to go along with a 1.79 goals-against average. In addition, he recorded six shutouts and was voted the league’s best goaltender, best player, and was named the league MVP. When the playoffs started, he had just turned 23 and he was even better than he was in the regular season. Lundqvist recorded a .962 save percentage and a 1.05 goals-against average on route to a 12-2 record in the playoffs.
The 23-year-old made the Rangers roster out of camp and was slated to be the backup behind then starter Kevin Weekes. Weekes was lost due to injury in just the second game of the season and thus Lundqvist’s first career start came in the third game of the season on October 8th, 2005. The Swedish native made 24 saves on 27 shots during an overtime defeat to the New Jersey Devils. On October 13th, 2005 Lundqvist made his MSG debut in front of a sold-out crowd as the Rangers defeated the Devils 4-1. Just days later, the Rangers defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 5-1, and Lundqvist was named the first star of the game. New York Post reporter Larry Brooks wrote following the game, “Fast becoming a Broadway folk hero, King Henrik of Sweden took an abbreviated victory lap around the ice while raising his stick and glove in a return salute to the fans….” This article would become one of the earliest instances of Lundqvist receiving the nickname “The King.” Lundqvist finished his rookie season with a .922 save percentage and was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (NHL’s Best Goaltender). Following his rookie season, nicknames “The King” and “King Henrik” stuck and spread like wildfire throughout the NHL.
The face of the Franchise
For the next 14 seasons, Lundqvist became the face of the franchise as he continuously played lights out. He was one of the most consistent goalies of all time and he always gave the Rangers a chance to win a game on any given night. King Henrik suited up for the Rangers 887 times throughout his career. He holds an all-time save percentage of .918 and a goals-against-average of 2.43. He became the only goaltender in NHL history to record at least 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons. Lundqvist would go on to record 30 wins in eleven of his first twelve seasons. He also became the only goaltender to win at least 20 games in 13 consecutive seasons. In addition, he won the Rangers MVP eight times.
Lundqvist was selected to the all-star game five times throughout his career. He also won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 as the league’s top goaltender. Number 30 is sixth on the all-time win list and has the most recorded wins among European goaltenders.
Come playoff time, Lundqvist would raise his game to another level. With a .921 career playoff save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average, Lundqvist would record 61 wins throughout his playoff career. When the Blueshirts were true Stanley Cup contenders from 2011-2015, Lundqvist’s goals-against average was never higher than 2.14. Between 2012-2015, Lundqvist had a 15-4 record and a .954 save percentage in elimination games. In all-time game seven’s, Lundqvist posted a record of 6-2 with an outstanding save percentage of .961. Lundqvist won the gold medal as Sweden’s starting goaltender in the World Championship in 2017.
“You can have as much skill as you want, you can train as much as you want, but in those game moments, those situations, you have to have the mentality to be the best and that’s why he was the best,” said former teammate and Rangers Friday night opponent Mats Zuccarello.
Lundqvist is a New York sports icon and forever will be one of the best the city has ever seen. Lundqvist played all 15 seasons as a member of the Rangers and his number 30 will never be worn by a Rangers player ever again.
Rangers vs Wild
Following the ceremony that begins at 6:30 P.M., the Rangers will take on the Minnesota Wild. The Blueshirts were defeated on Thursday night 5-3 in Columbus and will be looking to bounce back. Playing for the Wild is one of Lundqvist’s best friends, Zuccarello. Zuccarello played eight seasons in New York and quickly became amazing friends with Lundqvist.
“It helped that we both spoke Swedish,” Zuccarello said. “He was serious, you know. He was every day, boom, boom, boom. I was kind of like the jokester. I was a little bit of a change for him, had some fun, added some jokes.”
After Zuccarello was traded to Dallas during the Rangers rebuild, Lundqvist spoke with the media and broke down on camera.
Another former teammate of Lundqvist’s, Cam Talbot will be the Wild’s starting goaltender on Friday night. Talbot began his career as a member of the Rangers and won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award during the 2014-2015 season.
“(There is) nothing better for a young goalie coming up like myself than to learn from one of the best to ever do it,” Talbot said. “He was the face of that franchise for the better part of 15 years, so there’s no one more deserving to have their number up there than him.”
Igor Shesterkin will get the start for the Rangers. Shesterkin has had a similar career path to Lundqvist and had long been appointed as “The Kings Heir.” Shesterkin started his career playing overseas and similarly put-up numbers that are just out of this world. Both come to North America and quickly establish themselves as the number one. The 26-year-old is currently one of the front runners for the Vezina Trophy as he holds a record of 20-4-2 on the season with a .937 save percentage. Shesterkin was briefly teammates with Lundqvist during The King’s final season.
Key to the Game
On Henrik Lundqvist night, it would be rude if the key to the game wasn’t goaltending. While Shesterkin is having a quality season, Talbot is also having a fine season and he will be looking to steal the show on this special night. Minnesota doesn’t have a great power-play yet they are the third-highest scoring team per game in the league. The Wild are dangerous at even strength and Shesterkin will have to be alert at all times.