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Tonight Henrik Lundqvist Gets The Sendoff He Earned and Deserves

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Tonight Henrik Lundqvist’s No. 30 takes its rightful place in the iconic concave ceiling of Madison Square Garden, joining a bevy of banners that represent the history of the building and some of the greatest individuals who performed in it. The fans in attendance and watching around the world will finally get some form of closure.

Lundqvist has been back with the New York Rangers this season as an analyst during games played on MSG, and he seemingly will continue to do so as long as he wants.

The his final home game and his eventual formal exit from the team felt out of place and incomplete considering his tenure to the team, and overall meaning to the franchise. The decision to buy out Lundqvist didn’t come overnight, and had the pandemic not resulted in an early end of the 2019-20 regular season, I’d like to believe that there’s a good chance his final game as a Ranger would have been an special affair. His final victory at MSG took place on December 27, 2019, an evening in which he stopped 39 of 42 vs. the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers
This adequately depicts the circumstances in which Lundqvist often worked.
Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

But Lundqvist’s final start (although no one knew it at the time) at MSG was March 1, 2020, a loss vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. His final home appearance came a few days later on March 7, 2020 when he came in relief of Igor Shesterkin, stopping all five shots faced in 17:27 played.

After that game was over, no one could have predicted that the league would eventually pause the season due to COVID-19. The season eventually resumed with a 24-team postseason, but those games were played in a bubble without fans, a time that was short lived for the Blueshirts and Lundqvist.

Lundqvist’s time with the Rangers ended officially when he was bought out, and with that went the opportunity for him to get a proper sendoff with fans in the stands chanting his name with love and adoration.

In a cruel twist of fate, a heart condition also robbed Lundqvist of continuing his career after signing with the Washington Capitals, and prevented him from returning to The Garden to get his just due as a visitor ala Eddie Giacomin with the Detroit Red Wings on November 2, 1975.

Detroit Red Wings v New York Rangers Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Tonight, though, the King finally gets his proper sendoff, and a night of love, celebration, and recognition for all that he accomplished as a Ranger, and more importantly as an icon in the city. He’s not going anywhere soon, and there’s still time to celebrate him and enjoy watching him on TV, but tonight’s ceremony and banner raising serves as the truly official close to Henrik Lundqvist the player.

In October of 2020 I wrote about Lundqvist and his impact he had on New York, and briefly what he meant to me. If you haven’t check that story out, I’ve linked to it here.

I don’t want to repeat too much of what I said there here, but there’s one part I am going to pull and elaborate on based on a tweet that I saw on Tuesday.

For 15 years fans could go to a game and know that Lundqvist was going to give the Rangers a chance to win, and there was a good chance he’d put on a show they wouldn’t forget. There certainly were moments over the years where he had a bad game or gave up a bad goal or two, but he was always quick to take the blame and stress the need to be better — even if he wasn’t at fault.

This list is fucking nuts, and it doesn’t even include the first two seasons of his career. The gap between Lundqvist and John Gibson is cartoonishly absurd to the point where you believe the numbers are fake. But if you saw Lundqvist play put the team on his back for almost two decades you have an understanding of why the numbers are what they are.

Goaltending is a dangerous and volatile position where players rise and fall with regularity, steal the scene one minute, and washout of the league in the blink of an eye. But Lundqvist always found a way to play at an elite level, and somehow kick things into an even higher gear when the stakes required it. And there was such a regularity of consistency that you just don’t see in goaltending which added to his legend.

His record in Game 7s, his stretch of seven consecutive seasons with a SV% of .920 or better, and so much more reinforce just how unique he was.

It is unfortunate that a majority of Lundqvist’s career was played before HD was a standard for sports, and it sucks even more that footage of his career isn’t so readily available. For a period in time before NHL GameCenter became NHL.TV, which is now defunct because of ESPN+, there was this glorious archive known as The Vault.

The Vault allowed you to go back in history and pull up so many classic games, but it no longer exists. Fans of all ages should be able to reflect and watch some of the greatest moments of Lundqvist’s career, and it is my hope one day that footage is available again so that his greatness can be properly appreciated.

But with all of that said, tonight’s going to be an emotional night. I’ve been watching the New York Rangers since 1999, and was 13 when Lundqvist made his debut in 2005.

It came following a year in which no hockey was played due to a lockout, and in came a fresh faced prospect goalie who intended to be a backup for Kevin Weekes. But we all know what happened next, and there are so many memorable moments that transpired in the time since Lundqvist arrived in the NHL.

New York Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist defends as Tampa B Photo by Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

In September I will be 30, and that is still something I am coming to terms with. Time flies by a lot quicker than you think, so for those youngsters reading this... stay young as long as you can! This isn’t to say that I’m old, although I feel it, but as a general rule of thumb we can all take time to pause and appreciate what is in front of us.

It is hard not to get melancholy and reflective when thinking about Lundqvist because I literally grew up watching him as a kid, graduated high school and college, and became an adult. Lundqvist was in my life longer than he wasn’t, and that’s certainly isn’t an experience everyone is lucky to have.

Going forward from now until the rest of eternity, Lundqvist’s banner will overlook the ice for every event that takes place at Madison Square Garden. It will be there with other Ranger greats, some of whom are unfortunately no longer with us, and it will serve as a permanent reminder of who Lundqvist was and what he ultimately meant to the franchise.

Winnipeg Jets v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Lundqvist’s banner is something that will be appreciated by those who saw him play, and as something that can become a point of conversation for those who didn’t. In a way it reminds me of me going to MSG for the first time in 1999, looking up at the ceiling and asking my Dad, “who were these players #1 Giacomin, and #7 Gilbert?”

I am extremely lucky and blessed to have a hockey obsessed nephew — who really loves Igor in a way that I loved Mike Richter before Hank arrived — and I’m glad I’ve been able to share memories and stories with him. It is my hope that Shesterkin is able to have a career that has an impact on him just like Lundqvist did for me, and so many hockey fans.

My nephew was lucky enough to see some of Lundqvist before he retired, and as he’s gotten older and tech savvier he’s watched clips of Hank on YouTube from games played before he was born. I imagine just like I asked my Dad about Eddie Giacomin and Rod Gilbert during my first game at MSG, there will be experiences of new fans in the future looking to the ceiling, turning to the person they came with and asking “do you know who this #30 Lundqvist was?”

If I am ever in that position, my answer will be pretty simple. Henrik Lundqvist is the greatest goalie I ever saw, and an individual that created memories in my life that will truly “last a lifetime.”

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Six Photo by Elsa/Getty Images