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Backups share keys to Henrik Lundqvist success

Rangers goalie can reach 400 wins Saturday against Avalanche

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist isn't big on reflecting on what he has accomplished in what is likely to be a Hall of Fame career.

"I'm still in the middle of things," Lundqvist said Friday, "and I just want to keep going."

He can. He will. But even Lundqvist, one of the most focused, intense and consistent players of the past decade-plus, has given himself a chance to at least glance at the list of goalies he is about to join.

Lundqvist is one win from becoming the 12th goalie to reach 400 in the NHL. He can do it Saturday when he starts against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; MSG, ALT2, NHL.TV).

Among goalies who have won 400 NHL games, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall and Grant Fuhr are in the Hall of Fame. Martin Brodeur, the all-time leader with 691 wins, is eligible for the Class of 2018. Curtis Joseph, Roberto Luongo and Chris Osgood could eventually get in.

Brodeur, Esposito, Fuhr, Hall, Plante, Roy and Sawchuk were named among the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian.

"It's always fun when you just take a quick second to look at the names and realize obviously you've done something special and you've been given that opportunity," Lundqvist said. "That's what I feel like, I've been lucky to be given that opportunity here in New York for a lot of years. I try to work hard. I try to have a good attitude. But in the end it's about getting that opportunity and it starts with the organization believing in me."

Video: ANA@NYR: Lundqvist makes a nice pair of saves

Lundqvist is the leader in wins among Europe-born goalies, having passed Dominik Hasek when he won his 390th game on Dec. 31, also against the Avalanche. But 400 wins is different.

"We're talking about the biggest names of all time," said Steve Valiquette, a former backup to Lundqvist with the Rangers.

To gain insight into how Lundqvist has neared this milestone, NHL.com spoke to the five players who have worked closest with him, his primary backup goalies: Kevin Weekes (2005-07), Valiquette (2007-10), Martin Biron (2010-13), Cam Talbot (2013-15) and Antti Raanta (2015-present).

Here's what they said about Lundqvist and his steady success:

 

AN INCOMPRABLE WORK ETHIC

Weekes was the first goalie Lundqvist worked with in the NHL. He was considered the Rangers' No. 1 goalie going into the 2005-06 season, but that changed by December, when Lundqvist, a rookie, won the starting job he still has today.

Asked to describe Lundqvist's demeanor as a rookie, Weeks said, "Fiery, super competitive, and he expected a lot of himself. Supremely confident in himself and what he could do."

Weekes, a veteran at the time, said he enjoyed being a mentor to Lundqvist. 

"There were times, and still are, just less so than before, where his fire went against him a little bit, but it's a great trait to have," Weekes said. "It's always better to be a thoroughbred than a quarter horse. When you're a thoroughbred you can run at a pace that most other horses can't. He expected to be dominant. I used to tell him, 'Hank, it's not going to be a zero, one or two every night on the board, Dominik Hasek can't even do that all the time.' But he's very hardworking, always has been."

Weekes called Lundqvist a grinder.

"Money, contracts, heart, passion, all that aside, at the core he's a student of the game and he works like a grinder," Weekes said. "I have tons of respect for that."

All five of Lundqvist's backup goalies were asked for their lasting impression of him. All said it was his work ethic.

"When I got on the ice with Henrik for the first time it was a day after a game he played," Valiquette said, "and we go through practice where I'm dying, dead, practice is over and I've taken a lot of shots after practice, but Hank is not getting off the ice. He's still taking breakaways, still working. I remember thinking to myself, 'How am I ever going to catch this guy when he's the hardest worker I've ever seen?'"

Valiquette said he was actually angered by Lundqvist's work ethic. Biron said the same went for him.

"I was like, 'I want to leave the ice, I've been working for an extra half-hour and I'm exhausted, but I can't leave because he's still working at the other end,'" Biron said. "So I would just stand there and watch him. The guys would be like, 'Marty, do you want to go into the net?' I'd be like, 'No, I'm watching this.' His work ethic, always pushing himself, was second to none."

Nothing has changed, Raanta said.

"That's Hankie's style, that's how he has been the guy in this league," Raanta said. "If you don't have a working mentality and if you're not competitive enough, you're not going to be able to be on top of your game and on top of the League for 10 years."

 

A GREAT PARTNER

Lundqvist's face is on billboards in New York, but one of his best traits is the ability be one of the boys, Biron said. 

"We'd go to dinner and he was very undercover," Biron said. "Everybody knew he was Henrik Lundqvist, but he was not the one that would use his name, throw it around. He was just part of the boys. He loves being Henrik Lundqvist. He loves doing the photo shoots and all of that. But he does it in a way that it's not pretentious, it's not 'Look at me, who I am.'"

Lundqvist has maintained strong relationships with his goalie partners. He went out to dinner with Valiquette and Raanta on Tuesday. 

"You hear of a starting goalie that wants to play 75 games and it's all about him, but he was genuinely happy when I had success and in turn I was thrilled when he had success," Biron said. "You won't hear anybody who played with him say anything bad about him because he's just that type of goalie who is awesome to be with."

Talbot can attest to that. He went on to become the Edmonton Oilers' No. 1 goalie in 2015 after two years of apprenticeship with Lundqvist.

"The biggest thing I learned was how to be a pro," Talbot said. "I spent three-plus years in the minors before getting my call-up, and every training camp I came in I was able to see how much time he put in the offseason, how good of shape he came in and how hard he worked on and off the ice. That's the biggest thing I took away from him, is how much hard work it takes to get to that point and be one of the best. It made me push myself that much harder to get there."

 

ONE CONSTANT

Benoit Allaire is the only goalie coach Lundqvist has had in New York. They didn't know each other when Lundqvist arrived in 2005 but have grown into close friends and confidants. 

"The most important person here for me is Benoit Allaire," Lundqvist said. "To have that consistency, to have a guy that's so positive and has so much structure the way he works, it's just been great. He knows me really well, how I work, how I feel. He knows how to push me."

Weekes said Lundqvist's ability to adjust to the evolution of the League and technological advances in equipment is second to none. 

Lundqvist has changed everything from his glove, blocker, chest protector and pads to his positioning before shots and on rebounds. He used to play strictly on the goal line, deep in the crease. Now you see him being more aggressive.

It's all with Allaire's guidance.

"People look at successful people but they don't realize the constant process of evolution that helps lead to their success and sustainability," Weekes said. "He's a great case for that."

Standing on the verge of 400 wins is his proof. 

"And he's still not satisfied," Weekes said. "He's told me this before, what the Stanley Cup means to him and what it would mean to New York and the Rangers, but 400 wins, man, that's a super-elite club."

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