Among the records and milestones that Henrik Lundqvist continues to amass, the mark he surpassed on Tuesday was perhaps a bit more under the radar, but it was no less eye-catching: By the end of the first period against the Red Wings at the Garden, Lundqvist had played 50,000 minutes in the National Hockey League, every single second of it as a Ranger. He became only the 11th goaltender on record to reach that mark, and the third to do so for one franchise alone.
This was under the radar even to Lundqvist himself: He was unaware of it until he was told on Thursday afternoon. And he could only laugh when it was put to him that 50,000 minutes comes out to 35 full days.
"Wow. I mean obviously I've played a lot of games here over 14 years now, so I guess I knew I've played a lot of minutes," Lundqvist said. "I feel lucky to be given that opportunity to play - it's not given to you, you have to earn it, you have to work hard for it. Certainly I'm happy about that."
But you don't need that kind of time under your belt to understand that not every minute is the same; that some minutes hold their weight in the here and now, others for what they can say about the minutes that are still to come.
The Rangers have nine games remaining on their 2018-19 schedule, and Lundqvist made crystal clear on Thursday that that is where his full focus lies. But as he looked back on his 14th season with the Rangers, and ahead to his 15th and to what the future holds for the only team he has wanted to play for, Lundqvist admitted in an interview with NYRangers.com on Thursday that "It's probably been the hardest year of my career mentally. Just where we've been, and the process it's been.
"It's on my mind a lot, trying to figure out what I can do more. It's been a challenge for sure," Lundqvist said. "But it's an experience, you learn from it. A new experience for sure."
Part of that experience has been more or less evenly splitting time down the stretch of the season with Alexandar Georgiev, a reflection of the eye-opening play of Lundqvist's 23-year-old rookie backup.
"I think this year is a different year for a variety of reasons," David Quinn said on Thursday. "But I think as you get older you're always adapting to new seasons and your approach and things of that nature. So regardless of our situation I think as players get older they always adapt and they always make changes, and Hank's no different."
"You do your best to just get right back to the work ethic," Lundqvist said. "You work as hard as you can."
Lundqvist has five games in 2018-19 in which he has topped 40 saves, tied for the most in the NHL. Already this season, he has moved his way past a pair of Hall of Famers in Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk and into sixth place in wins among all-time NHL goaltenders, currently with 449. With nine games remaining this season, Lundqvist understands that he will have only a handful of opportunities to add to his prolific numbers, and may have to wait until the fall to catch Curtis Joseph, who is at No. 5 with 454 wins.
But then, as Lundqvist sees it, if there are nine games remaining, there are nine opportunities left.
"So many things you can't control, you know? You've just got to worry about your own game and try to do as much as you can," Lundqvist said. "Whatever game I get I'm going to try to make the most of that start. That's really my focus. I believe we can win every game if we play our absolute best."
The opportunity, too, is for the Rangers to cultivate the kind of habits that will serve them down the road, as a team and for the younger players individually - "the players that only have played this year, for example, this is what they know, this is the type of approach they will have," Lundqvist said. Granted, once a player has logged 14 seasons in the league (or, if you like, 50,000 minutes) as Lundqvist has, that player's habits have already passed the test and likely are pretty set - "but you still want to be part of creating the type of atmosphere in here of what we expect from each other, when it comes to work ethic, execution, everything," Lundqvist said. "It's something that you build."
One thing the Rangers have unquestionably built this season is a reputation for, as a hockey coach loves to hear, being hard to play against, and a team that simply does not go away and is never out of games. The Blueshirts are fourth in the NHL in wins when trailing after two periods, and only the Red Wings (40) have played more one-goal games than the Rangers' 39 - three of those have been against one another, including Detroit's 3-2 win at the Garden on Tuesday.
"I think you have to demand that. No matter what, you have to work really hard to leave everything out there," Lundqvist said. "It would be unacceptable - to us, to the fans, to anybody - if you didn't leave everything out there. And I think especially when you have a lot of guys who are trying to make their mark here, make sure that they have a spot, I think it's important that they leave everything out there. That's not only working hard, that's preparation, commitment to the game plan - everything.
"That's why it's important, these games," Lundqvist said. "This is how we build."
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