Ever since Henrik Lundqvist
went between the pipes for his first regular-season start at Madison Square Garden, Rangers fans have instinctively known he was special.
Lundqvist won that first start, 4-1 over New Jersey on Oct. 13, 2005. He stopped 20 of 21 shots to earn No. 1 Star of the Game honors and his first NHL victory. It was clearly the start of something big, and the Swedish sensation went on to win 30 games as a rookie. His 30 victories were most by a first-year goaltender in Rangers history, breaking the previous mark of 29 by Hall of Famer Johnny Bower and "Sugar" Jim Henry.
|Henrik Lundqvist is on the verge of accomplishing something never before achieved in 92 years of NHL hockey. |
Nearly four seasons later, Lundqvist is poised to make not just Rangers history but NHL history as the first goaltender to win 30 games in each of his first four NHL seasons. With 29 wins heading into Thursday night’s game at Nashville, Lundqvist is also on the verge of becoming only the second Rangers goaltender to win 30 in any four consecutive seasons, matching a streak sent by Hall of Famer Ed Giacomin between 1966 and 1970.
The current NHL record of three straight seasons with 30 wins to start a career is shared by Lundqvist and Ron Hextall, who won 37, 30 and 30 games in his first three years with the Philadelphia Flyers during the mid-1980s.
Lundqvist is currently on a streak of 30, 37, 37 and 29, giving him 133 victories in 251 games. That makes him the sixth winningest goaltender in Blueshirts history behind Mike Richter, Giacomin, Lorne “Gump” Worsley, John Vanbiesbrouck and Dave Kerr. At his current pace, Lundqvist will enter the Rangers’ top five when he passes Kerr sometime next season.
In fairness to those who came before him, Lundqvist has benefited from a couple of advantages in his remarkable run of consecutive 30-win seasons. First, there are shootout victories. Prior to 2005, wins gained in shootouts would have been games that ended in ties. Without shootout victories, Lundqvist would have won 26 games in his rookie season. Thanks to the addition of the shootout for that season, he was able to begin his march to the record.
The other major advantage for Lundqvist was the fact that he began his NHL career at the very start of a season rather than as a result of a midseason call-up or in an understudy’s role, as was the case with many great goaltenders in the past.
One of only three current Rangers on the roster for the team’s first game coming out of the 2004-05 lockout season, Lundqvist won the No. 1 goaltending job within a month of joining the team and went on to appear in 53 games as a rookie. Most goaltenders in NHL history have not stepped into that No. 1 role so quickly, and many of those who have were unable to sustain it.
With 30 wins this season, Lundqvist will achieve something that not only eluded Hextall, but also many of the game’s finest goalies. Consider these big names whose careers did not start as fast as Lundqvist’s:
• Ed Belfour
-- won 30 games in three of his first four full seasons, but slumped to 21 in his sophomore year.
• Dominik Hasek
-- won 30 games in only two of his first four full seasons.
• Glenn Hall
-- won 30 games in each of his first two seasons, but won only 24 and 28 in his third and fourth years.
• Martin Brodeur
-- did not win 30 games until his third full season.
• Grant Fuhr
-- did not win 30 games until his third full season
• Patrick Roy
-- did not win 30 games until his fourth full NHL season.
In fact, the only goaltenders whose early-career 30-win streaks could be mentioned in the same breath as Lundqvist’s are Hall of Famers Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk, Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito. Each of these players was called up from the minor leagues. Because their first NHL seasons did not begin in October, they were not in position to play 30 games, let alone win them. However, Plante, Sawchuk, Dryden and Esposito all managed to string together four straight 30-win seasons after they became full-time NHL players the following season.
Lundqvist’s record will soon take its rightful place in the record books, regardless of shootout victories or the fact that other goalies did not break into the league as rapidly as the Rangers goaltender. Even if these particular concerns are weighed into the equation, the mere fact that Lundqvist already shares early-career 30-game winning streaks with only the likes of Plante, Sawchuk, Dryden and Esposito is an indication of just how much Rangers fans can expect from him in the years to come.