Sometimes, we don’t appreciate greatness when it is right in front of our eyes. In our all-too-cynical world, we look at great players and emphasize what they are not instead of appreciating what they are.
I don’t think New York City really appreciated Patrick Ewing as a player until he was gone. He enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with the Knicks during his 15-plus years in the orange and blue. He averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds per game over the course of his Knicks run. He was an 11-time All-Star and was named to the All-NBA 1st and 2nd team. He was GREAT and was named one of the Top 50 greatest players in NBA history.
I bring up the Ewing example because I don’t think we appreciate Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist enough. I know hockey has its place in this city and it is behind the other three major sports in terms of fans interest. But that should not minimize the brilliance of Lundqvist and what he has meant as a New York Ranger. He has been a Ranger for 12 seasons and they have made the postseason 11 of those years.
I know the Rangers are down 2-0 in their best-of-seven series against the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I also know and watched in stunned disbelief as the Rangers blew a two-goal lead on Sunday afternoon, only to fall 6-5 to the Senators in double overtime. Lundqvist was not “king-like” Sunday afternoon in Ottawa as he allowed six goals on 34 shots with a save percentage of .824.
But let’s just take a moment to break down what he has done for the Rangers over the years:
-Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 as the league’s best goaltender.
-He is the only netminder in the history of the NHL to record 10, 30 win seasons in his first 11 years.
-He has taken the team to the Stanley Cup Finals and they have made the Eastern Conference Finals on three occasions.
-He helped lead Sweden to a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
-In the regular season, he is 405-249 for his career with a 2.32 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
Lundqvist has had a legendary career up until this point and at 35 years old, he is not done yet.
What we should do is appreciate him a little bit more than we do. People like to poke fun at his nickname, “King Henrik.” Why? Because he has never won a Stanley Cup and how can he be a king when he has never won a championship.
That is nonsense.
I get what winning a title does for a player, especially an all-time great one. It solidifies their place in history. But in doing that and in winning a championship, you also want to play great when it matters the most, in the postseason. When the lights are shining the brightest, you want to be at your best as an athlete. There is no question that Lundqvist has been that type of player. In the postseason, his GAA is 2.27. His save percentage is .922.
He has not always had the most talented of teams around him either and has never had the luxury of playing with a Sidney Crosby or a Patrick Kane. Over the course of his career, he has also dealt with coaching changes in which they have gone from the defensive, low-scoring style of John Tortorella to the more free-flowing schemes of Alain Vigneault.
We all understand the importance of the netminder and when the playoffs roll around, having a hot one gives you an opportunity to win any given game and any given series. The Rangers have been consistent winners in the regular season and have been a pretty consistent playoff performer, but they just have not won the ultimate prize of the Stanley Cup.
Lundqvist deserves his fair share of blame for not winning the Cup but also deserves a ton of credit for making the Rangers a consistent championship contender.
When players start to age, we always start to think about who will be that player’s replacement. It is not time, nor should it be discussed, yet. He has shown you this postseason that he still has the ability to raise his game and in turn, the Rangers to another level. Sometimes championships help define a player but a players greatness should not be solely defined on if he won a championship or not.
Ewing never won a title in New York and Lundqvist has not either. It does not lessen their impact on their teams and this city. As a Knicks fan, I long for the days of Ewing and meaningful basketball. As a Rangers fan, I fear the day when King Henrik is not between the pipes.