NEW YORK – It won’t take much for Jonas Gustavsson to get focused for tonight’s challenge against the New York Rangers and arguably the best goaltender in the world.
With the Red Wings finishing up three games in four nights, they will turn to their veteran backup to out-duel Henrik Lundqvist in a battle of Swedish goalies at the world-famous Madison Square Garden.
“It’s an exciting place. It’s a famous building,” Gustavsson said. “It’s a great team with lots of history, so it’s fun for me to face Lundqvist at the other end. It’s always one of those games that you get excited for. It’s a lot of fun to play.”
For the first time as a Red Wing, Gustavsson will face the Rangers, a team he has started against eight times in his career – all with the Toronto Maple Leafs – while posting a 3-4-1 overall record with a 3.14 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. He boasts a 3-2-1 mark in six career head-to-head meetings against Lundqvist.
In two starts this season, Gustavsson is 1-1-0 with a 1.45 GAA and .935 save percentage. He defeated the Leafs, 1-0 in overtime, in his season debut Oct. 18.
“It’s fun, obviously you’re not going to face any shots from him, hopefully,” Gustavsson said about playing against King Henrik. “But it’s exciting to see him on the other end because you know you have to bring you’re A-Game. Chances are he’s going to bring a pretty decent game, so you’ve got to match him to have a good chance to win the game. It’s a good challenge and that’s what makes it fun.”
The 32-year-old Lundqvist has been elevated to hockey-icon status in his native Sweden for his decorated international career that includes gold and silver Olympic medals from 2006 and 2014, respectively.
“Oh yeah, he may be the most popular guy up there with (Erik) Karlsson and maybe (Henrik) Zetterberg,” said Gustavsson, who backed up Lundqvist in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. “He’s the best goalie we’ve ever had, in my opinion, and he still has a lot of good years ahead of him so he’s going to become even bigger, I think. He’s just a great athlete and a good ambassador for Sweden.”
Aside from being Olympic teammates, the two goalies don’t know each other very well.
“I just know him from the times that I met him,” Gustavsson said. “I think it’s two Olympics and two meetings in Sweden. Other than that we don’t live in the same town, or anything like that, so I don’t know him that well. It’s just those weeks that we’ve been together with the national team.”
Since joining the Rangers in 2005, Lundqvist has been dominant, posting 30 or more wins in eight of nine seasons, and winning the 2012 Vezina Trophy, becoming the first Swedish goalie in 26 seasons to win the award as the league’s best goaltender.
“From what I’ve seen, (Lundqvist) hates to lose, whether it’s in practice or whatever it is,” Gustavsson said. “I’ve seen him break sticks in practice when guys score on him. So I think that’s what pushes him to the next level all of the time. He never quits and he’s mentally strong. That’s a key. When you’re up there, there’s a lot of goalies who can play as good as him, or maybe better than him some nights. But to bring it that often, that’s all in your head and that’s why I think he’s up there.”
Lundqvist’s meltdowns are as legendary as his playing career. It’s something many Red Wings have seen as teammates on the national team.
“He gets so mad when you score on him,” Zetterberg said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in a morning skate, a practice or a game he’s not happy.”
But from a competitive standpoint, Lundqvist is still one of the best in the world. He shutout the Red Wings twice last season, not allowing a goal in the last 144:58 minutes against Detroit.
“He’s right up there,” Zetterbreg said. “He did things last year, took (New York) all the way to the (Stanley) Cup final. Not a lot of goalie’s can do that. He’s one of them.
“When I’ve been playing with him too, you see what a competitor he is and why he has so much success.”
POWER PLUG-IN: After an 0-for-3 showing Tuesday in Ottawa, the Red Wings’ power play is 0-for-7 through the first two games of their three-game road trip, which ends tonight at Madison Square Garden.
The goal drought comes after the Red Wings seemed to jumpstart the man advantage last week when the power play generated three goals on nine chances overall in wins against the Capitals and Kings.
“We had some good looks,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said, referring to Tuesday’s game. “We had two minutes in their zone in the end, had some good looks, didn’t score on the power play. I didn’t think that was as big a concern. We obviously got to sort out a few things. We’ll do that prior to our game (tonight). We just go to get our whole group to play harder.”
ONE STREAK CONTINUES: The big question before Tuesday’s game was how many goals would Johan Franzen score against the Senators?
The Red Wings’ power forward has scored goals in bunches in Ottawa with two-, three- and five-goal outbursts in three of his five previous games at Canadian Tire Centre.
Though Franzen’s goal streak was snapped Tuesday, he did pick up his first career assist against the Sens in Detroit’s 3-1 loss. He now has 11 goals, one assist and a plus-9 rating in six career games in Canada’s capital city.