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2014 Report Card: After a rough start, Henrik Lundqvist reminds everyone he's the most important Ranger

Henrik Lundqvist is the best player alive at his position, if there was ever any doubt.

Jim McIsaac

This guy.

There was a dark time when Henrik Lundqvist wasn't the Rangers goaltender of the future. When he was supposed to be unseated by an unknown Cam Talbot in the midst of a contract year. When Lundqvist "was losing it." Those were cute times.

Not-so-good start

Lundqvist's struggles out of the gate were well documented. There was a mystery lower body injury that sidelined him for a few games. There were ongoing contract negotiations that Lundqvist later admitted were a distraction. In all, it equaled a 7-12-1 start for Lundqvist, and while the Rangers ship was sinking, and Lundqvist was chief in the struggle.

Then came Dec. 4.

More on Lundqvist

Lundqvist and the Rangers agreed to a mega seven-year, $59.5 extension. If there's a statistical split to really put Lundqvist's season into context, it has to be pre-and-post - Dec. 4. The former added up to an 8-11 record, with a save percentage of .916. In the games after his extension? Lundqvist's record rose to 25-13-5, with a .922 save percentage.

It was perplexing to see Lundqvist struggle so consistently because he rarely strung together two bad starts over the course of the first eight seasons of his career. If there was an indestructible piece in the Rangers machine, it was Lundqvist. No goalie has won more since Lundqvist entered the league in 2005. The goalies with a save percentage higher than him are scarce, and have all appeared in 100 fewer games than him; most hundreds more. The same can be said about his goals against. Lundqvist has been and continues to be the best netminder in the NHL since he turned pro. And that was the case after whatever was ailing him early in the season was alleviated.

Lundqvist simply looked sharper. He was technically better, much squarer to the puck, and in control of his movements. Had Lundqvist played that level from the beginning of the season, and he's likely hoisting his second Vezina trophy. Instead, he had to settle for a silver medal, and a playoff performance for the ages.

Post Olympics dominance

Lundqvist and team Sweden didn't take home the gold, but they came darn close, buoyed by their goalie's perfect five-game start to the tournament. Lundqvist shut out two teams in that stretch, allowing only six goals, stopping 117 of 123 shots. Then came the juggernaut that was Team Canada, who handed Lunqvist and co. a 3-0 defeat.

What came next was a post-Olympic dominance that supplanted the Rangers as a playoff team. In the 19 regular season games he played after the Olympics, Lundqvist went 11-6-2 with a .926 save percentage. That hot streak ran into the postseason, where Lundqvist led the Rangers as far as they've ever made it during his tenure, falling three wins shy of the Stanley Cup, but not without creating his own highlight reel along the way. Remember this save? Or this guy?

How about like all billion of these?


Prince Cam

Something good came out of Lundqvist's horrid start. And it wasn't just the goalie's personal admission of finding some inner discipline, and not looking past the moment. During the one step forward, two steps back start to the Rangers season, Cam Talbot was discovered. In the big picture, this is fantastic news. Lundqvist was given more chances to rest under Talbot, why the Rangers were given more chances to win when going to the No. 2 guy. It very well could have helped catalyze Lundqvist's long, effective playoff run.

To further put Lundqvist's career into context, he's also played the most games of any goalie in the league since 2005. The seven-year extension kicks in this season, and Lundqvist will continue to start 50-plus games year in and year out. So Talbot, or whoever is backing up Lundqvist, is very important.