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Appreciate Mr. 400 While You Still Can

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Colorado Avalanche v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Henrik Lundqvist won his 400th game the same way he’s won most of his games in his career: He carried the team on his back.

Sure, the Rangers mounted a small comeback in the third period, but it was Lundqvist who kept the score close enough to make it stand. Lundqvist who has put his struggles (highlighted by a mediocre defense) behind him. Lundqvist who is 8-1 in his last 10 (he got a ND against Columbus), with a 1.90 GAA and a .930 SV%.

Even with his recent sting of Old Hank games, he’s still sporting a 2.68 GAA and a .911 SV%; figures that are far beyond the 2.30 GAA and .920 SV% of his career average. Still, Lundqvist continues to be the Rangers beacon of hope as they slosh through this middling period where they’re Stanley Cup hopefuls but not yet contenders.

In a way, Lundqvist has been his own worst enemy in terms of hype and expectations. The name of the game when it comes to goaltending is consistency, and Lundqvist has been as consistent as any goalie in NHL history.

The only goalie to win 20 games in 12 straight years (and this would be 30 games if not for the lockout shortened season), Lundqvist is the winningest European goaltender in league history and the fastest goalie ever to reach 400 wins. (Obligatory mention that Lundqvist has had the benefit of the shootout, which eradicated ties.)

Along with his regular season consistency Lundqvist has brought his game to the big stage of the playoffs, as well. A 2.28 GAA and a .921 SV% through 116 playoff games to his name.

There are those who continue to run their mouths about how Lundqvist isn’t a big game performer — highlighted by the fact that he has yet to win a Stanley Cup. Before I touch on that, I feel like leaving this here will end those fallacies (although I know it won’t).

Until the Rangers have a parade down the Canyon of Heroes, Lundqvist will always be held to the standard of not winning a Cup. It’s what will inevitably hold Alexander Ovechkin back from being one of the best players of his generation (again: unfairly) if he goes without a Cup.

For Lundqvist it’s even more apparent, though. Lundqvist has backstopped a ton of good but not good enough teams, and dragged them (often kicking and screaming) deeper in the playoff than they deserved to go.

Yet somehow last year’s total defensive meltdown is ignored when people assess what happened in the playoffs last year. Actually, that seems to happen in the regular season, too, but I digress.

I’ve said this on the podcast a few times but will say it again here: You will more than likely never see a goaltender as good as Lundqvist on Broadway ever again. Never.

And back to the point above: Lundqvist’s elite consistency has ruined reasonable expectations for himself. This fanbase has become so accustomed to the greatness of Lundqvist that they demand that perfection regardless of the circumstances. It’s a shame to see (and hear, when some choose to jeer him in his own house) and yet I can’t think of a more fitting punishment than realizing what they missed out on years from now when Not Henrik Lundqvist is between the pipes.

Lundqvist will eventually age enough to deteriorate his game -- and we might be in the midst of that right now. He’s going to fall off, and he’s going to eventually become average. Hank average might still be better than NHL average, but it will still not be what he’d been. It might happen next year or it might happen years from now -- that’s the thing about ageing, it impacts everyone differently.

For me? I’m enjoying the show. I watch Lundqvist with a “kid in a candy shop” awe more often than not. Sometimes my jaw is on the floor. Sometimes I’m on my feet. Sometimes I yell something or make some type of guttural noise as Lundqvist once again does the impossible.

More than that, I’m appreciating him. I don’t know how much longer he’s going to do this but I’m appreciating him all the same. I’m no fool, and I know that in my lifetime Lundqvist has been at the forefront of any success this team has managed.

After the Rangers beat Colorado, saluted the crowd and then exited the ice they named the three stars of the game. Lundqvist, predictably, was the first star.

He came out onto the ice (most of the fans stayed to cheer him — including some who probably booed him a few weeks ago) and tapped the “New York” on his chest at the crowd.

I swelled up with pride and dread. Pride at the fact that Lundqvist (who has been turned on by some in this fanbase) still cares so much -- and I really believe that he does. It forges a special bond I can’t really explain here, but you know it because you feel it too.

The dread comes from the fear that this organization will somehow squander one of the best goalies in NHL history by allowing him to retire without a Stanley Cup.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out. That’s part of the magic with being a sports fan.

But until I see the end, I’m going to enjoy Mr. 400 while I still can.