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Lundqvist, tied with Sawchuk in NHL wins, appreciates place among greats

Rangers goalie tells of being inspired by Hasek, other legends near top of list

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Henrik Lundqvist admits he's not been a student of goaltending history, too sharply focused on the task at hand to concern himself with the names of the legends in front of or behind him on various lists.

But the New York Rangers goalie chuckled recently when handed a page listing the 50 winningest goalies in NHL history, the flags of their home countries beside their names.

"A lot of Canadians here," the native of Are, Sweden, said with a laugh of the maple leaf appearing 35 times. "When you crack the top 10, you start to pay attention to the list a little bit more."

Now that he has tied Terry Sawchuk for sixth on the NHL wins list, Lundqvist expects he will be paying attention to the Hall of Famer's career more and learning about the legend who is regarded by some as the greatest to ever play the position (and who played his final eight games for the Rangers). 

Lundqvist tied Sawchuk when he picked up his 445th victory in a 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

"It's an honor," Lundqvist said about pulling alongside Sawchuk, having made 24 saves in the Rangers victory. "I'd already passed some names that meant a lot to me growing up so it's a very cool feeling. … I keep saying if you reach a milestone … so many great teams here in New York and they've been giving me an opportunity to play a lot of games. I'm proud. It's definitely a good feeling to see that happen."

It was a bit of a grind for Lundqvist to reach Sawchuk. He won his 443rd game on Dec. 31, a 2-1 road victory against the St. Louis Blues, then lost his next three decisions, pulled early in two of them, before winning No. 444 on Tuesday, a 6-2 win at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tweet from @HLundqvist30: Special feeling to climb this list. So many great goalies that meant so much to me growing up and to the game. Appreciate the support guys! 🙏 #445

Lundqvist is more familiar with others at or near the top of the wins list. One active goalie is ahead of him: Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers, who is fourth with 479. Leading the list are Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur (691), Patrick Roy (551) and Ed Belfour (484), and Curtis Joseph is fifth with 454 (all but Roy had NHL careers that overlapped with Lundqvist's).

It took Lundqvist (445-287-90) 839 games to tie Sawchuk, the Winnipeg product who played his entire 971-game, 21-season NHL career without benefit of regular-season overtime or the shootout, both of which Lundqvist has had since joining the NHL. Sawchuk went 445-336 with 171 ties. Lundqvist has 102 wins in extra time (41 in overtime, 61 in the shootout). 

The Rangers selected Lundqvist in the seventh round (No. 205) of the 2000 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 8, 2005, a 3-2 overtime loss at the New Jersey Devils, and got his first NHL win, 4-1 against the Devils, five nights later at Madison Square Garden.

"I remember both games were against Marty (Brodeur)," Lundqvist said during a visit to Montreal in November. "My first year was a surreal feeling, living my dream. The Rangers opened the door for me, I got my foot in and I started playing. I don't remember details of the first win, but I remember playing at the Garden and being welcomed very warmly by the crowd."

Lundqvist has no clue where he'll be on the wins list when he hangs up his pads, but he figures Brodeur's total of 691 is on another level altogether.

"I think that's out of reach," the 36-year-old said with a laugh. "Marty was extremely consistent for so many years, on a competitive team for so many years. There are so many things you need to help you, a lot of things that go into reaching a number like that. Marty did a great job.

"I think you're going to see a lot of guys come up around the 400-win range now. You have (regular-season) overtime and the shootout. It's impossible to know where the goalies of the past would have been if they'd had those. At the same time, the game itself evolves."

Lundqvist has blazed an impressive trail with the Rangers, passing Dominik Hasek (No. 14 with 389 wins) to become the winningest Europe-born NHL goalie. He was the fastest to reach 400 wins, doing so in 727 games, eight fewer than Brodeur. (Hasek played 13 of his 16 NHL seasons before the shootout was adopted in 2005-06, Brodeur 12 of 22; each played his entire NHL career with regular-season overtime, which was adopted for 1983-84.)

Video: Dominik Hasek won Vezina Trophy six times, Hart twice

"I remember when I tied Dominik Hasek. That was a big thing for me," Lundqvist said about the 3-2 win against the Devils on Dec. 18, 2016. "He was such an inspiration for me. You can reach a level where you look at a guy and you say, 'Wow, he meant so much to me, he's an inspiration to my game.'

"I tried things that I saw Dominik do in practice. Back then in Sweden, you couldn't see YouTube clips. You'd see a highlight once a week but that was cool. I can't say I'm a guy who studies the game or the names, but I do feel a big sense of pride when I reach a milestone. I feel fortunate to have been part of the Rangers organization for so long, which has given me the opportunity to play a lot of games."

Last season, Lundqvist became the first NHL goalie to have at least 20 wins in 13 consecutive seasons (winning at least 30 games 11 times); he's six wins from extending that run to 14.

"Consistency is a big thing for me," said Lundqvist, who has the most games played by a goalie (839), shutouts (63) and Stanley Cup Playoff wins (61) in Rangers history.

"I take a lot of pride in working hard to try to be as good as I can be every night. To win 30 games for 10 or 11 years, just to be there, it's something I take a lot of pride in. And it means a lot having records for the Rangers, a franchise I'm really committed to. I'm sure when I'm done playing, having the most wins and shutouts for the team is an accomplishment I'll feel really good about."

He said the NHL has changed dramatically since his first days in the Rangers goal, and certainly since Sawchuk's day.

"I'm kind of in between old school and the new era," Lundqvist said. "When I started (playing as a kid), there was no butterfly (stance). I had to learn that around age 17, 18. When I came into the League, there were a lot of stand-up goalies. I don't even know the term they used when you stepped down with one leg on the post, but I never did that. The young guys who come into the League now are so technically sound.

"I try to adapt and take some of their stuff into my game, but some other things I know wouldn't work for me. I have to stick to old school, reading shots, relying on technique. The speed, the footwork, has changed so much and the game is faster than it used to be, too. Players are more skilled. It's definitely a challenge but it's a fun challenge to be a goalie in the League today."

So with tying Sawchuk comes another milestone that Lundqvist will enjoy, if only briefly before he resets and takes aim at win No. 446.

The two goalies are linked beyond the wins list: Lundqvist has worn No. 30 for every NHL game he's played, all for the Rangers. It is the same number Sawchuk wore during his brief stint with New York in 1969-70 backing up Ed Giacomin.

And in 2011-12, Lundqvist was voted winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie; Sawchuk won it four times -- then a statistical award -- the last in 1964-65 when he shared it with Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Johnny Bower.

"I grew up feeding off many of the goalies on this list, watching them play," Lundqvist said. "I had posters of some of them on my wall. A lot of guys I've heard about. I never saw them play but I understand their importance.

"You do have moments when you think, 'Wow,' when you stop and say, 'How did I get here?' Then you realize you've been lucky to have been part of all the fun things over the years. Pretty quickly, you go back to, 'OK, I have a job to do.'

"But you've got to enjoy the ride, too. Sometimes you're so focused on the final destination that you forget to do that. Sometimes, it's good to take a step back and enjoy your surroundings, enjoy how you got here and take it all in."

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