The New York Rangers didn’t play as deep into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Garden Faithful hoped they would. Their elimination felt particularly disheartening this season, especially for the man between the pipes.
Henrik Lundqvist shouldered a lot of the responsibility for the Rangers’ elimination, even though it wasn’t his play that led to their collapse. Since the Rangers’ season ended earlier than expected, Lundqvist had “A lot of gas left in the tank here. I was hoping to play for another month. That was our goal and my mindset. It was very disappointing obviously to end the season like we did, but you have to accept… it’s over here.”
While It was over in New York, Lundqvist’s hockey season didn’t have to be over. For the first time since 2008, he joined Team Sweden at the IIHF World Championship. This year, he was particularly motived to play for his country, as the NHL opted not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics; “When I looked at why I wanted to come, the first thing was simply playing for Team Sweden. I don’t know how many other times I will get the opportunity to play for my country.”
This was Lundqvist’s fourth time representing Team Sweden at the World Championship (2004, 2005, 2008). In 2004, he won a silver medal with Sweden and was named to the World Championship All Star Team. Lundqvist also represented Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship in 1999-2000, where he earned a bronze medal.
Along with the World Championship and World Junior Championship, Lundqvist has represented his home country in the Olympics in 2006, 2010, and 2014. He backstopped Sweden to a gold medal in 2006 and a silver medal in 2014. Most recently, he appeared in the World Cup of Hockey with Team Sweden prior to the 2016-17 NHL season.
Playing for his country wasn’t the only motivation behind him extended his season – as he had the chance to play with his twin brother, Joel, for the first time in 12 years.
Prior to Henrik joining the tournament, Sweden went 3-1-1 with Viktor Fasth (CSKA Moscow of the KHL) and Eddie Lack (Calgary Flames) in net. And once he joined, Sweden went undefeated. Lundqvist played Sweden’s final two preliminary games and all three in the medal round. He finished the tournament with a .946 save percentage and 1.31 goals against average.
The Lundqvist brothers and Team Sweden faced off against Team Canada in the gold medal game. Lundqvist stopped all but one goal through regulation and overtime, before stopping Nathan MacKinnon, Brayden Point, Ryan O’Reilly, and Mitch Marner in the shootout to claim the gold medal.
Joel described the experience of winning gold with Henrik as emotional, “A win is a win, a gold medal, but to do it here with Henrik… we grew up watching Team Sweden play, and to win a gold medal together is a dream come true for sure. I know Henrik when he lost over in New York he was disappointed, but I told him right away we had a great group here and to come, 'we want you and we need you.' He played his best hockey. We needed it. It's awesome. To be here today winning a gold medal together, it's an amazing feeling. It's a dream come true, for sure."
Henrik echoed Joel in how this tournament affected him, “It was just a pretty emotional moment, I think for Joel as well. To do this together… we've been on separate ways here the past 12 years, but growing up we were always on the same team spending every day together. To come here and play for your country and pull this off, it's one of the best feelings. I'm super proud and grateful."
The Rangers season may have ended in disappointment, but Henrik found a way to turn that loss into a win – one that should not only refresh his confidence before the next season in New York, but that will be lasting memory.