GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Henrik Lundqvist looked around the Rangers’ dressing room before a late-season home game and wearily shook his head. Perhaps the most difficult season of his 14-year N.H.L. career was winding down, and the reality of missing the playoffs for the second straight spring had long since set in.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “Draining.”
Lundqvist, the Rangers’ longtime goalie, could not be blamed for his visible angst. His team finished 32-36-14.
Lundqvist, 37, has seen many teammates depart for other teams, but the trade of Mats Zuccarello to Dallas in late February seemed an emotional tipping point. Lundqvist was brought to tears after the next day’s game, an overtime loss at Washington.
The season ended with Lundqvist 18-23-10, the first time he did not reach 20 wins.
Facing another long summer, he said he had not fully processed this disappointing Rangers campaign.
“It’s still pretty fresh — now you take some time to think about the good things and the things you need to improve,” he said Sunday after the Rangers ended their season with an overtime win at Pittsburgh on Saturday. “It was more challenging than I expected it to be.”
Lundqvist remains supportive of the Rangers’ ongoing rebuild. He now has teammates slightly over half his age, but Lundqvist maintains he still wants to lead the franchise as he has since bursting on the scene for the 2005-06 season.
But he knows a higher gear will be needed in the N.H.L. of today. The Rangers played 23 overtime games, losing 14, and had the fewest wins in regulation and overtime (26) of any team in the league.
“I would say the last three months were the toughest stretch. Not getting it done, that was frustrating,” said Lundqvist, who was 2-11-3 in his last 16 starts. “There were a lot of games I felt pretty good. But good wasn’t enough to make a difference and that’s what I want to do here, make a difference.”
Lundqvist has 449 career regular-season wins, sixth-most in N.H.L. history, and 61 more in his 11 trips to the postseason, though the Stanley Cup has proved elusive. The Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the 2014 Cup finals and also reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2012 and 2015. Those exhaustive yet enthralling playoff runs must feel eons ago as the Rangers continue to construct their next contender with youth and the promise of a bevy of high draft picks in this June’s draft in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The franchise faces many questions this off-season under Coach David Quinn, hired last May out of Boston University. By the end of the season, the Rangers were the N.H.L.’s youngest team, with the average age of players on the roster at 25.5. Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast are the only players left from the team’s 2014 run to the Stanley Cup finals.
Three players 21 and under were contributors this season, with 21-year-old center Brett Howden scoring six goals, 19-year-old forward Filip Chytil chipping in 11, and 20-year-old forward Lias Andersson — the seventh overall pick in 2017 — playing 42 games with two goals.
Winger Pavel Buchnevich, 23, had a breakout campaign with 21 goals, and the team got steady second-half play from defenseman Brady Skjei, 25.
“We’re right where we want to be, because there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things that will happen this summer,” General Manager Jeff Gorton said. “We have more young players coming. I’d like to think we are in a good spot and moving in the right direction.”
Lundqvist has two years remaining on the seven-year, $59.5 million contract extension he signed in December 2013. He watched his understudy Alexandar Georgiev, 23, perform very well this season. Georgiev was 8-4-4 the past six weeks and finished 14-13-4 with two shutouts and a 2.91 goals against average.
Another young goaltender, Igor Shestyorkin, also 23, could join the Rangers next season. He was a fourth-round pick by the Rangers in 2014 and has been playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Thus Lundqvist, in his 15th season, could face more competition than he has in previous years. Quinn remains solidly in Lundqvist’s corner, though he said fewer games may be in the goalie’s best interest.
“We have talked about it,” Quinn said. “Hank is still one of the top goalies in the N.H.L. and he’s part of our future.”
Lundqvist could have roster help from the free agent market. The Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson and the high-scoring Artemi Panarin are expected to be among the top players available.
“We were not really close in the end to making the playoffs, but does that mean we are far away?” Lundqvist said. “You see teams having a tough year add a few pieces and just like that you change the dynamic and you’re in the mix.”
Gorton said despite the travails Lundqvist endured in the second half of the season, management’s confidence in their All-Star has never wavered.
“He’s still a great goalie and he’s been a franchise player for a very long time,” Gorton said. “He has the respect of everyone of the room and everyone in this organization has been better because he’s been in it. We all know that.”
Published at Mon, 08 Apr 2019 16:47:06 +0000