2014 Stanley Cup Final: A fresher Lundqvist helping the Rangers reach new heights

Victor Decolongon

Henrik Lundqvist made his second-fewest number of regular season starts since his rookie year, which may be helping him in this Rangers deep postseason run.

Cam Talbot has been a different kind of spectator come the Stanley Cup round. The 27-year-old undrafted rookie, who performed in such stellar fashion during the regular season, has been out with an undisclosed injury, changing his status from backup to scratch.

While it was never the Rangers' hope to see Talbot on the ice these last four-to-seven games, it's perfectly fine, as the Alabama-Hunstville alumnus has already made a huge impact for the Blueshirts, and even continues to do so while watching in a suit and tie.

That's because, for only the second time in his career, excluding his rookie season and a lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign, Henrik Lundqvist started fewer than 68 games. The King has been a workhorse in between the pipes for the Rangers his entire career, not only racking up wins and top-tier numbers, but also consistently starting more than any other goalie in the league. His 574 games played since 2005 ranks first among NHL netminders. Marc-Andre Fleury is second on that list at 510, a full 64 games behind Lundqvist. To put that into context, only three goalies played 64 or more games this regular season, so Lundqvist has essentially played an entire year's worth of hockey more than the second-closest puck stopper, and then there's a dramatic drop-off as the list goes on.

With that being said, this has again been a lighter year for Lundqvist. His 63 starts are nothing to scoff at, but by his standards, Lundqvist was rested more than usual. How that came about was a little bit of coaching, and a lot of uncharacteristic struggles. At one point, Talbot even started three consecutive games, making it the only time other than twice during his rookie season Lundqvist sat and watched a stretch that long. (Keeping in mind, one of those breaks was due to the flu.) Lundqvist's cold play forced him to the bench, but also decreased his mileage.

There's more to the puzzle, of course. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault set a target number of games for his backup Talbot, a range he was slotted into. Plus this was an Olympic year, and with Lundqvist's home country making it all the way to the gold medal game, the Swedish-born goalie played as many minutes as a player could in Sochi while avoiding overtimes.

But interestingly enough, when asked about the fatigue factor of the Olympics, Lundqvist turned the situation seem positive.

"Mentally, it's almost like a break because it's such a different environment. Different teammates, preparations are different," he told Blueshirt Banter back in January. "I remember every time you come back, you're excited to be back in New York and start playing again."

Lundqvist would never admit to fatigue in year's past, and this Rangers team is as good as any he's played on top to bottom. But still, it's interesting to look at Lundqvist's pre-playoff workload, and compare it to some other successful goalies during that timeframe.

The chart below breaks down the number of games Lundqvist has played each season he's been in the league, and how the Rangers fared overall each season.

Year Regular Season GP Olympics GP Total GP before playoffs Total GP (including playoffs) NYR Result
05-06 53 6 59 62 Swept in 1st round
06-07 70 -- 70 80 Lost in 2nd round (4-2)
07-08 72 -- 72 82 Lost in 2nd round (4-1)
08-09 70 -- 70 77 Lost in 1st round (4-3)
09-10 73 3 76 76 Missed playoffs
10-11 68 -- 68 73 Lost in 1st round (4-1)
11-12 62 -- 62 82 Lost in 3rd round (4-2)
12-13 43 -- 43 55** Lost in 2nd round (4-1)
13-14 63 6 69 ?? ??

** - denotes lockout shortened season

Lundqvist has already played more combined hockey since the regular season started this year than any other stretch in his career, but that's in large thanks to the Rangers reaching the Cup. It's also worth noting that his total games played before this postseason is one of the lowest numbers of his career, and it still came in an Olympic year.

Examine each of the Stanley Cup winning goalies since Lundqvist entered the league, and for the most part, you'll notice a trend: fewer than 60 games played before the postseason.

Year Stanley Cup winning goalie Total GP before playoffs
05-06 Cam Ward 28
06-07 Jean-Sebastien Giguere 56
07-08 Chris Osgood 43
08-09 Marc-Andre Fleury 62
09-10 Antti Niemi 39
10-11 Tim Thomas 57
11-12 Jonathan Quick 69
12-13 Corey Crawford** 30
13-14 ?? ??

** - denotes lockout shortened season

Each of these year's and Stanley Cup wining goalies are unique. Osgood and Niemi were not near the top of the list as far as Conn Smythe candidates the years their respective teams won. Ward was a hot rookie who replaced a struggling Martin Gerber in the first round before buoying the Hurricanes through the Finals. Fleury and Quick—the two goalies to have played in more than 60 games before the postseason to go on to win the Cup—held similar importance to their teams as Lundqvist, although probably not as much.

What can be said is, statistically, Lundqvist is having one of his better playoff runs. Comparably to this stretch is his postseason, which, came after that other year with fewer than 68 games played. Maybe those two standout runs in three years are just a sign of an improving Rangers team inching closer to a Cup, or maybe Lundqvist finally got the rest he needed to sustain a high level into mid-June.

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