TAMPA – It’s not as if Henrik Lundqvist is ready to hang up the mask, the pads, the glove, the stick. He still has six years left on a $ 59.5 million contract. Only an ascetic monk, with no college loans, would walk away from that.
So Lundqvist will be around for a while, likely as a Ranger. A very marketable Cam Talbot no doubt will become the trade bait. Few teams can throw around that kind of Lundqvist money or accept an $ 8.5 million annual cap hit. But everyone also understands that conference playoff finals only come around so many times, and that the Swede’s career arc is far nearer the end than the start.
“He’s been on every kind of stage in the world,” Rick Nash said. “He’s been a top goalie for a long time.”
From the beginning this season, that has been a big part of the sub-text. The Rangers’ window of opportunity opens and closes in sync with Lundqvist’s biological clock. And at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, when the Rangers face the Lightning down in the series, 3-2, that window was no longer gaping wide.
“That’s a hard question,” Lundqvist was saying after the morning skate, about whether he worries there won’t be many more chances like this for him. “I think you just try to stay in the moment right now. You don’t really think about the big picture, and I think that’s extremely important when you’re playing these games. You just stay within yourself here and focus on what you have to do, not so much about where you are in your career.”
Lundqvist keeps himself in good shape and prepares for games about as diligently as anyone. Still, he is 33 years old and missed two months of this season due to injury. Goaltending is an unforgiving vocation. The great ones at that position in the modern era have a mixed record when it comes to longevity.
Ken Dryden was done at 31. Dominik Hasek played until he was 43, and was still near the top of his game at 37. Patrick Roy retired at 37, after leading the league in goals against average at age 36. Marty Brodeur was still playing this season at age 42, though everybody but Brodeur himself seemed to realize he was not quite the same after 37.
If you give Lundqvist four more years of prime-time goaltending, a reasonable number, that doesn’t leave the Rangers much time to cash in on his acknowledged expertise. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy and becoming the favorite to capture the Stanley Cup, there was no time like the present on Tuesday night.
Lundqvist tried to take the moment in stride.
“It’s not like we haven’t been there before,” Lundqvist said. “We just have to go out there and leave everything out there and see how far it takes us. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
The Rangers need Henrik Lundqvist at his best if they hope to skate at the Garden on Friday.
Hockey is a strange sport, and its participants bring very different skill and mental sets to the rink. For the Rangers’ forwards, in particular, a sense of desperation could be a positive weapon in Game 6. It was no coincidence that the Rangers had fared so well in past elimination games, when their adrenaline ran highest. Speed and forechecking can get a bump from such emotion.
For Lundqvist, however, it was more a matter of focus. He needed to read plays as they unfolded before him, figure the angles. Emotion would just get in the way.
“It’s really challenging for me, the way they move the puck and find open ice for the shot, the way they get scoring chances from right in front,” Lundqvist said, about Tampa. “They’re good, but I need to be more consistent with my game plan.”
Another night, another plan for Lundqvist. How many more would there be? That’s one countdown the Rangers hope not to activate.
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