New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist won his 400th career regular-season game Saturday night, defeating the Colorado Avalanche, 4-2, at Madison Square Garden.
Lundqvist, who had already become the NHL’s top European-born goaltender when he passed Dominik Hasek with his 390th win this season, stopped all 17 shots he faced in the third period as the Rangers came from behind to win.
The crowd serenaded him as the clock wound down, and when the buzzer sounded, he raised his arms into the air.
“The last couple of minutes were intense,” said Lundqvist, who joined Martin Brodeur and Tony Esposito as the only goaltenders to record 400 wins with one team. “I really wanted to get this one.”
Only 11 other NHL goalies have reached the 400-win threshold, a list led by Brodeur (691) and Patrick Roy (551), and it took a comeback for Lundqvist to add his name. The Rangers trailed the Avalanche, 2-1, heading into the third period but rallied with goals by defenseman Kevin Klein — his second of the game — and Rick Nash. Kevin Hayes cemented the win with an empty-net goal.
Forward Derek Stepan said Lundqvist, who finished with 32 saves, was undeterred by the deficit his team faced.
“He said between the second and third, ‘We’re not losing this game,'” Stepan said. “He answered the bell in the third — that’s what good leaders do.”
Milestones are not the driving force for Lundqvist, who has been to the playoffs in all but one of his 11 previous seasons. Mild-mannered off the ice — equally happy discussing musical interests, favorite cars or latest fashion trends — Lundqvist morphs into a caldron of intensity on the ice.
“He wants to win every game, and he shows that every night,” Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegian forward who has become close friends with Lundqvist since they first met at the 2010 Olympics, said Friday. “And players like to win for him as well.”
Lundqvist, 34, has won 30 or more games 10 times and is on his way to eclipsing that mark again this season. He had a strong week at home, beating Calgary last Sunday, then delivering perhaps his best game this season with a 43-save performance against Anaheim in a 4-1 win Tuesday. He followed that with 34 saves Thursday as the Rangers won their fourth straight game, 4-3, over Nashville.
Saturday’s victory was the eighth in 10 starts since Lundqvist was blitzed for seven goals by the Dallas Stars on Jan. 17. That capped a stretch in which he gave up four or more goals in four straight games. Lundqvist vowed at the time to get back to work and rediscover his goaltending groove.
After his milestone win, dedication to his work ethic continued to drive Lundqvist, who has 225 of his career wins at the Garden.
“I just want to get back to work tomorrow and keep improving my game,” he said.
Lundqvist will often seek the counsel of goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who has been there for him since he burst onto the scene as a rookie in the 2005-06 season. Such consultations may lead to minor tinkering with positioning or perhaps include a few words of quiet advice for the relentlessly intense Lundqvist. Always eager to inject gratitude into his thoughtful comments, Lundqvist clearly appreciates the mentorship.
Lundqvist and Allaire embraced in the locker room after the game.
“Of course, you think about all the people who helped you get to this point,” Lundqvist said. “You get a little sentimental at times, thinking that this really happened. It’s a little surreal. I love it.”
Lundqvist also has 55 career playoff wins, but the Rangers have reached the Stanley Cup Final only once in his career, in 2014, when they fell to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Lundqvist has lost in the Eastern Conference finals twice, in 2012 against the Devils and in 2015 in Game 7 against the Lightning.
With Lundqvist’s 35th birthday approaching March 2, and four years remaining on his contract after this season, time is of the essence.
“You’ve got to want pressure,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Hank is one guy who wants to be there and wants to be a difference-maker.”
Lundqvist is also among select company as only three other goalies have won 300 times with their only team. Mike Richter, second to Lundqvist in Rangers history with 301 wins, is on the list with Turk Broda (302 wins with Toronto) and current Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (371).
Instead of crunching numbers or analyzing his place in history, Lundqvist would rather consider teammates past and present. He admitted that passing Hasek among European goalies — with a 6-2 win over the Avalanche in Denver on Dec. 31 — also brought out his sentimental side. He felt the same way after securing Saturday’s memorable win over Colorado and paid homage to his devoted Garden fans.
“I had so much fun here for so many years,” he said. “The crowd is really into it, and it’s just the best feeling.”
But even with all the games Lundqvist has played and the thousands of pucks he has smothered, deflected or swatted out of the way, Lundqvist knows that many battles lie ahead.
By the end of this season, Lundqvist should be approaching Esposito’s 423 wins, which are eighth on the career list. Lundqvist will reach 500 career wins and third place on the career list if he continues his winning pace for the remaining years of his contract through the 2020-21 season. He has played his entire career in the shootout era, which means, unlike other goalies on the 400-wins list, he has no ties on his record.
Lundqvist merely looks to his next game while appreciating that his accomplishments have all come with his original team.
“I try to work hard and have a good attitude,” he said. “In the end, it starts with the organization. They gave me the opportunity to play a lot of hockey.”