What the 2012-13 NHL Season Means For the Legacy of Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in hockey.  He’s coming off a career year in which he set new personal bests in wins, saves percentage, and goals against average, while carrying the New York Rangers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.  Henrik Lundqvist led New York to the Eastern Conference Final, but his first Stanley Cup appearance eluded him as the Rangers fell to their division rivals, the New Jersey Devils.  Despite being the top seed in the conference, despite having a Vezina Trophy winner in net, despite facing the bottom three seeds in the East, Henrik Lundqvist’s Rangers are still without a Stanley Cup appearance.

It’s unfortunate, but goaltenders are defined by their postseason results.  Jonathan Quick went from trade bait last offseason to a franchise goaltender when he capped off an excellent regular season with a Stanley Cup Championship.

Despite phenomenal numbers in the postseason, including a 1.82 GAA, .931 save percentage, and three shutouts, Lundqvist was just 10-10 in the 2012 playoffs.  Moreover, he’s just 25-30 in the playoffs over his career.  If Henrik Lundqvist cannot deliver a Stanley Cup Championship to the New York Rangers, how will he be remembered?  Mike Richter delivered only one truly standout season in his 14-year career, but his 42-12-6 1994 season was capped off with a 16-7 postseason record during an incredible Stanley Cup run.  Richter had Mark Messier, among others, but he was a winner and a champion.  Now Lundqvist has a supporting cast that includes Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Marion Gaborik, and one of the best young defensive corps in the NHL.  There are no longer any excuses about offense, depth, and roster balance.

Obviously New York’s failures during Henrik Lundqvist’s career do not fall squarely on the shoulders of the talented goaltender.  However, in the prime of his career, does Henrik Lundqvist need to deliver a Stanley Cup to the Rangers to be remembered as one of the best goalies of his era?  ”Matteau! Matteau!” would have defined Martin Brodeur had he not delivered three Stanley Cup wins after falling to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994.  Will Henrik Lundqvist’s legacy be defined as “Henrique!  It’s over!” or will Rangers fans be content with impressive numbers that never lead to a fifth Stanley Cup?

Ron Hextall is remembered by Philadelphia Flyers fans as the last legitimate goaltender the franchise has had.  However, without a Stanley Cup to define his nine playoff appearances, he’s often bitterly remembered as a mediocre goaltender that never delivered.  Is the legacy of Henrik Lundqvist doomed to that kind of polarization if his team’s postseason struggles continue?  His failures haven’t been nearly as epic as Roberto Luongo or Ilya Bryzgalov, but in the prime of his career Henrik Lundqvist sniffed postseason success for the first time last season.  Before last season’s run, Lundqvist had only won two playoff series in seven years, despite solid performances.

The 2012-13 season and the years that follow will go on to define Henrik Lundqvist’s career.  Expectations are as high as ever and the roster is one of the most talented to ever surround the talented goaltender.  2012-13 isn’t  necessarily “Stanley Cup or bust”, but this roster simply must deliver a Stanley Cup to avoid being considered one of the more disappointing teams in Rangers history.

Henrik Lundqvist, simply and perhaps unfairly, will either deliver a Stanley Cup to an Original Six franchise , or forever be the face of a team that never completely put it together – despite his exceptional talents, consistency, and remarkable playoff performances.  There’s no separating a superstar from a lack of championships and Henrik Lundqvist needs to deliver a Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers.

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