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Friday, February 26, 2010

Lundqvist delighted to be staying with Blueshirts (2008)


Just like two other popular Rangers goaltenders of recent vintage, Henrik Lundqvist hopes to make an extended run on Broadway, now that he has agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Blueshirts.

And the chants of "Hen-rik! Hen-rik!" will fill The Garden for years to come just as those of "Rich-ter! Rich-ter!" and "Ed-die! Ed-die!", honoring Rangers legends Mike Richter and Ed Giacomin, did for many years prior to Lundqvist's arrival in New York in the fall of 2005.

"I have loved it here since Day One," said the 25-year-old Lundqvist, who could have been a restricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. "There was no reason to wait for the summer. I wanted to get this done as quickly as possible."

The third-year pro is already a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded each season to the league's top goaltender. And Lundqvist has also emerged as a true team leader, as well as one of the most personable and popular Rangers in recent history.

In other words, the Rangers have signed exactly the type of player, and person, any organization would want to have as part of its foundation for an extended period of time.

"Henrik is such a great guy, a great teammate, and one of the best goalies in the league," said teammate, and fellow goaltender, Stephen Valiquette. "Locking him up for long term is such a smart play (by Rangers management) because he means so much to this organization."

Lundqvist burst upon the New York scene playing in 53 games as a rookie in 2005-06, posting a formidable 2.24 goals against average and a sterling .922 save percentage while winning 30 games. He followed that up by playing in 70 matches in his sophomore season a year ago, posting 37 victories, a 2.34 goals against average, and a .917 save percentage. Lundqvist also backstopped the Rangers to a first-round playoff sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers and a near-upset of the favored Buffalo Sabres in the second round of the post-season last spring.

So far this year, the guy they call "Hank" inside the Rangers dressing room has started 50 of the club's 59 games. His 24 victories are tied for fourth-most in the NHL and his seven shutouts are second best. Lundqvist also has a solid 2.37 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.

"Everyone in our room respects what Henrik means to the club," noted Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "He's a tremendous competitor and an elite goaltender."

Success over a long period of time is what will put Lundqvist, who led Sweden to an Olympic gold medal as a 23 year-old in 2006, in the same conversation as Giacomin and Richter of all-time great Rangers goalies.

Giacomin starred in goal for the Blueshirts from 1965-66 until 1975-76. He is the franchise leader in shutouts with 50 (49 in the regular season and 1 in the playoffs) and ranks second in wins with 267. A six-time all star, and the co-winner with teammate Gilles Villemure of the Vezina Trophy in 1971, Giacomin was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 and had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Rangers two years later.

Richter, who made his NHL debut during the 1989 playoffs against the Penguins, retired in 2003 as the Rangers all-time leader in victories (301) and games played in goal (666). He was a three-time all star and the MVP of the 1994 NHL All Star Game played at Madison Square Garden. And, of course, Richter was in net for all 16 of the team's victories in the 1994 playoffs, leading the Rangers to the fourth Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. Richter's No. 35 was retired by the Rangers in 2004.

The affable Lundqvist is not about to get caught up in looking too far down the road, however. In fact, his focus is directed at the club's next opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, this Saturday afternoon at MSG. But that focus can not take away the joy of knowing he will be a part of the Rangers organization for many years to come.

"I am excited that this got done, and I am excited to know that I will be a part of this organization for a long time," said Lundqvist. "I am just really happy because I love it here."

Hen-rik! Hen-rik!

Let the chants from the Garden faithful continue.

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