Henrik Lundqvist was the one constant for the Rangers in this most inconsistent of seasons.
Lundqvist was rewarded Wednesday morning for a most remarkable year by being named one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy. Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and San Jose’s Antti Niemi are the other finalists.
Lundqvist is a Vezina finalist for the fifth time in his career. He finished third in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and won the award for the first time last year.
“It means a lot. I am really proud to be in that category,” Lundqvist said after the Rangers’ early skate at the Garden before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Capitals. The Rangers trail the best-of-seven series, 2-1.
“It’s been an interesting year — a different year, a shorter season. [It’s been a] tight schedule [and] things maybe didn’t go our way all the time. When you have to work really hard to get back in the race and to finally get in, it’s just a big reward. Last year, I thought a lot of things were going our way. This year we had to work really hard for it. Consistency this year is something I am very pleased about.”
Lundqvist compiled a 24-16-3 record with a 2.05 goals against average and .926 save percentage during the abbreviated season. He led the league in wins and starts (43).
“He is the backbone of our club,” head coach John Tortorella said. “I think in the past number of years, you would have your starting goalie and you would never take him out. I think more and more teams flip flop their goalies. Certainly, it’s nothing against the goalies that have been here behind him. That doesn’t cross our minds. He is that good and that consistent.”
In a typical season, the Rangers would have limited Lundqvist to around 60 games in order to keep the goaltender fresh while getting in the subsequent practice work with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.
Tortorella did not have that option this season due to its truncated nature. Lundqvist started the last 14 games of the regular season as the Rangers battled to clinch a playoff berth for the seventh time in the last eight years.
“We were still trying to get him some rest,” Tortorella said.
Reserve goaltender Martin Biron only played six games this season. He was 2-2-1 with a 2.32 GAA and .917 save percentage. His last game was the 3-0 win in Montreal on March 30.
“But as we went through our years and we were fighting along trying to get in, I played him more than I certainly expected to,” Tortorella said. “You have to make those adjustments along the way.”
Bobrovsky (21-11-6, 2.00 GAA, .923 save percentage, four shutouts) and Niemi (24-12-6, 2.16 GAA, .924 save percentage, four shutouts) are finalists for the first time in their careers.
The NHL’s 30 general managers vote for the Vezina. The winner will be announced during the Stanley Cup final.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for coverage throughout the playoffs.