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30 Days of Lundqvist: Bounce Back from Neck Injury

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Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Henrik Lundqvist, a goaltender not known for his injury history, suffered a rare injury in 2015. Against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 31, Ryan McDonagh’s stick lifted Lundqvist’s mask during play, making his neck vulnerable to a puck coming off Brad Malone’s stick. Despite the puck hitting his exposed throat, the New York Rangers’ netminder remained in the game, even though it was later revealed afterwards that he was lightheaded and experiencing headaches.

Although his neck was stiff from the injury the following game, he still made the next start against the Florida Panthers on February 2, and led his team to a 6-3 win, making 33 saves. After this game, Lundqvist was again having headaches, so he underwent testing to see if his neck injury was more severe than originally believed – and it was, as scans indicated a sprained blood vessel.

This injury, which was reported as a vascular injury, made Lundqvist more susceptible to blood clots and required time to heal – time that didn’t involve contact or extreme neck motion that could re-injure the blood vessel.

While Lundqvist was sidelined with this injury, backup goaltender Cam Talbot assumed the starting position. Lundqvist was confident in Talbot taking over the Rangers’ net, saying "Cam has been playing really well for the two years he's been here. He's not 21. He's been around. He's played a lot of hockey. We're all confident. We're not second-guessing anything. He's playing really well. The team feels confident with him in net also."

Lundqvist and the Rangers were right to be confident in Talbot, who shined for the Rangers and helped them maintain their first-place standing in the Metropolitan Division until Lundqvist was ready to return. His strong performance actually inspired some fans enough to believe that he should be the Blueshirts’ starter come the playoffs, even if Lundqvist was ready to return.

Rather than riding the hot goaltender, whose accomplishments were so noteworthy in his stint in the starters’ net, the Rangers knew who would be backstopping the Rangers come the playoffs – their backbone, Lundqvist.

Against the Boston Bruins on March 28, Lundqvist returned to the crease. While he allowed four goals in his return against the Bruins that resulted in a Rangers’ loss, he regained his form with four consecutive wins against the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils, and Columbus Blue Jackets. And after a loss to the Ottawa Senators on April 9, Lundqvist help his team close out the regular season with a win against the Washington Capitals.

Lundqvist led his team on the ice against their first-round opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers defeated the Penguins in five games on April 24, with Lundqvist allowing only a single goal in each of their four wins.

In the semifinals, the Rangers faced off against the Capitals, and Lundqvist yet again backstopped his team to victory, this time in seven games.

Ultimately, the Rangers were unable to return to the Stanley Cup Final, as they were eliminated in seven games by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

Despite the Rangers’ unfortunate elimination, Lundqvist’s strong play was evident throughout the playoffs. In his 19 postseason starts, Lundqvist collected a .928 save percentage and 2.11 goals against average – both of which were the third highest of his playoff career to date. His play also earned a 3.84 goals saved above average.

Lundqvist’s performance after his first game back against the Bruins, through the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, was especially impressive considering the 25-games missed due to his neck injury. After a rough start to the 2014-15 season, his stellar play to finish the year reinforced that he’s the team’s backbone in net, and why he’s earned the nickname The King.