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Mike Richter: Window still open for Henrik Lundqvist

Rangers Stanley Cup winner says 34-year-old goalie can help New York win championship

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL since his rookie season of 2005-06. He has won 374 regular-season games, has 55 wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.

But time and circumstance appear to be against Lundqvist's chance to win the Stanley Cup. 

He will turn 35 on March 2 and enters this season as the backbone of the reconfigured Rangers, who will emphasize youth, speed and special teams.

Lundqvist won 35 games last season, but his 2.48 goals-against average was the highest of his NHL career. He also had a 4.39 goals-against average during a five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

But former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter, who was the starter on the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team, said the window for Lundqvist to win a championship hasn't been slammed shut.

Video: 1994 Cup Final, Gm6: Mike Richter snags Bure's shot

"Your time as an elite player is always closing from the moment you become a top player, but he still has that window open," Richter said following a Q&A with fans at the NHL Powered by Reebok Store in Manhattan on Wednesday. "I think he's a tremendous player. One thing that does happen, and you saw it with Martin Brodeur, is you get better as you go in terms of your experience and your understanding of the game. Most importantly is what you understand about yourself and what it takes to get yourself prepared."

Brodeur is the NHL leader in regular-season wins (691), shutouts (125) and games played (1,266). He also defied Father Time. From the time Brodeur was 34 years old in 2006-07 until he retired at 42 in 2014-15, he won 245 games with a 2.31 GAA and .913 save percentage. He also won the Vezina Trophy in back-to-back seasons at ages 34 and 35, and was third in Vezina voting at 37. At age 39 In 2011-12, Brodeur helped the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final, going 14-9 with a 2.12 GAA and .917 save percentage in 24 postseason games.

"Playing at that level, at any level, is all about fulfilling your potential," Richter said. "You need to know what makes yourself click. And Henrik knows that. He's an absolute professional. He approaches every game to win it and to play his best. He gets that like few people do, and that's what makes him so consistent, so I do think there's plenty of fight left in him."

Critical to keeping Lundqvist going, according to Richter, is Rangers backup goalie Antti Raanta. Lundqvist started 64 games last season and 81 playoff games the past five seasons. Raanta is a solid No. 2 who went 11-6-2 with a 2.24 GAA and .919 save percentage in 25 games (18 starts), and is in line for a greater workload this season.

"If you don't have two strong goalies, it could be a real problem because you overplay the first one," Richter said. "Henrik, maybe the second problem is he's very competitive and wants to play all the games. But I think he's also mature enough to know there will be times where he'll benefit from the rest.

"The beautiful thing is [the Rangers] have a tremendous one-two punch in their goal. Both of them are world-class players. I don't think they can possibly feel they're not giving themselves a great chance to win [with] whomever's in net."

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm5: Lundqvist stops Daley, Crosby

Despite being close to the upper limit of the NHL salary cap, the Rangers were able to retool after the five-game loss to the Penguins. They added forwards Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe as free agents and acquired defenseman Nick Holden in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche; all are expected to improve a penalty kill that ranked 26th (78.2 percent) last season. They also signed forward Jimmy Vesey, the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner, and acquired center Mika Zibanejad in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. His 1:25 of shorthanded ice time per game was third among Senators forwards last season.

"I think the Rangers have done a lot to help themselves over the summer," Richter said. "That's the good news. The bad news is it's a very competitive league. There's a lot of teams that keep improving."

The Rangers also retained their core group, including four forwards who scored more than 20 goals: Mats Zuccarello (26), Derek Stepan (22), J.T. Miller (22) and Chris Kreider (21). They are hoping for bounce-back seasons from forwards Rick Nash and Kevin Hayes and defenseman Dan Girardi.

"Do I think they can [make another run]? Yes, I absolutely do," Richter said. "I do think they've got a great nucleus, they've had it for a while. Great leadership. I think they can do a lot of damage. It's a matter of whether they're playing their best when they need it the most."

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