When Henrik Lundqvist talked to Blueshirt Banter ahead of the Olympic break, he was just coming out of an early season slump, quite possibly the worst stretch of his entire NHL career.
"At the same time, you learn from it, and I've been working really hard to try to reach the level where I feel I should be," Lundqvist said.
If the turnaround was just beginning then, consider it now to be complete, and consider Lundqvist to be well on his way to bigger and better things.
When the Swedish-born netminder was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Draft, there were no immense expectations for the 205th overall pick. Mike Richter's career was coming to a close, and New York was searching for an heir apparent to the throne.
But the Rangers didn't know they'd find their future King in the late rounds.
What Lundqvist has done this season is nothing short of remarkable. Not only has he regressed to his perennial Vezina-level of play, he's done so in the midst of an Olympic year, at a tournament where he led Sweden to a silver medal, and was the only goalie to play every second of the Games for his country.
Remember when Cam Talbot was supposed to force Lundqvist out of his starting role with his hot play, and Lundqvist's struggles?
In essence, where the Rangers are at right now is in a place where Glen Sather and Alain Vigneault envisioned the team. Lundqvist is still its biggest asset—if this weekend proved anything, it's that the Rangers are still capable of winning the low-scoring games they have over the past five or so years. But in acquiring more skill up front, there's more of a safety net than years past. In Saturday night's game against the Devils, Rick Nash broke a scoreless tie with the game's lone goal, until Derek Stepan sealed it with an empty netter.
#Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has held opponents to two goals or less in 16 of his last 23 games (16-6-1, 1.96 GAA, .935 sv%, 3 SO).— Seth Rothman (@RothmanHockey) March 23, 2014
Yet the backbone of that win was still Lundqvist, and after setting the Rangers franchise marks in wins and shutouts, there remains only one jewel for Lundqvist to add to his crown, and it's a Stanley Cup.
The Rangers have of course come close in Lundqvist's tenure. There was a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, series victories, but New York has never made a trip to the Cup finals with Lundqvist in the crease.
In that time span, the Rangers have also never had a team as deep and as skilled as they do right now.
And therein lies Sather and Vigneault's mission. Elements of the Rangers game have been corrected in this season's team: the power play is better, there's more scoring depth, and the Rangers defensemen get more involved with the offense.
The key to the Rangers making any noise in the playoffs is and always has been Lundqvist. The pieces being changed around him are still key. But Lundqvist needs to be at the top of his game for the Rangers to achieve their and the goalies one true goal, and that's to bring the Cup back to New York.
What Lundqvist has meant and continues to mean to this franchise is almost immeasurable. He's the team's most valuable and most important player season in and season out. That exorbitant extension he inked, making Lundqvist the highest-paid goalie in all of hockey? It was well-deserved, and was the only option.
The accolades are now beginning to pile up for Lundqvist, who continues to move up the charts. He'll finish this season 23rd overall in all-time wins among any goalie, and will likely finish his career in the top 10 when it's all said and done.
His contributions to this franchise and the city for a player who came in as an unknown defy logic, yet all we know for sure is Lundqvist will continue to be the anchor the guides the Rangers, who will go as far as he can carry them.