Lundqvist: we have a better chance now
NEW YORK. Someone is trying to tell Henrik Lundqvist to calm down. “Easy, Hank!”. The sports bar in midtown Manhattan is filled with 20 heavily pumping hockey hearts. The Swedish one is beating fastest.
The New York team has gone straight from the shower after the 5-2 win against New Jersey, out to town, to powerlessly watch their playoff destiny being decided.
21.45 the same evening the Rangers aren’t powerless anymore – Stanley Cup preparations begin and nobody is telling King Henrik to calm down.
It’s on the day one year after the loss in Philadelphia that SPORT-Expressen goes for a walk with the dog together with the Swedish goalie star.
Back then, this interview wouldn’t even have been possible. Henrik Lundqvist was hardly contactable. Now he can summarize “one of his best seasons ever” while he’s walking in shorts and a hat with dobermann Nova on the leash.
Lundqvist talks about the rematch with Washington Capitals in words like “we have a better chance now than two years ago” and that “there is no clear favorite in the east”.
The Rangers got into the playoffs with the smallest possible margin. After a loss in the second last game, not only a win against New Jersey was needed, but playoff-certain Tampa Bay had to defeat Carolina Hurricanes. On the tv screens in the sports bar, Lundqvist could see it all turn out perfect.
“it’s good for me to get challenged”
“We are closer to Washington this year. They have more talent than we do, that’s undeniable. We have to play at our top to have a chance. We have to have 20 guys that go for it. But we work hard and that’s how we’ve defeated many teams,” says Lundqvist.
It’s the Rangers and Lundqvists fifth Stanley cup playoffs in six years, but this year it’s more because of him than before. Without his league-leading eleven shutouts, the Rangers would definitely not have come near a playoff spot. Still, this was the first season that he got pointed out as the weak link during a loosing streak by coach John Tortorella. “Let us be honest, our goaltending hasn’t been there. Absolutely not at the level it should be at this point of the season,” Tortorella said to the stunned press in february. “We have played good hockey. I think we would probably have gotten five of these six points with decent goaltending."
“He has demanded more and more, that’s probably true,” says Lundqvist and laughs loudly. “We’re getting to know each other better and better. We’ve had some meetings during the year they have been... we have been quite honest to each other.”
- You to him too?
“I try... I think it’s good for me to be challenged. He is a person that pushes you.”
- What was the sound level during those meetings?
“The sound level...”, repeats Lundqvist and laughs secretly. “When there’s potential, he wants to get the most out of it. It’s just about being able to handle that, to deal with it the right way.”
Before the season, the plan was to relieve the star goaltender so that he would not have to play 70 games like before, so he could be fresher during the playoffs. But with his backup Martin Biron injured, the season ended just like they use to. “On the other hand, when it’s so close in the end like now, you want to play,” says Lundqvist and makes clear that he is not worn out.
“This is probably the first year when no injuries are bothering me. Just small things, like a shot on the knee and a stiff neck for a while. You feel such things for four, five days. Other years I’ve had problems that lasted longer.”
Injuries that weren’t reported before the playoff adventure ended and that made Lundqvist miss the World Championships.
Of course you can’t help but wonder, but anyone who has tried to ask someone with a winner mentality like this man about WC right in the middle of the hot playoffs knows that the answer could just as well be a good right (as in a fist).
Lundqvist hates to talk about WC.
“It’s though with WC. Everyone wants a season that’s as long as possible. WC goes against your goals. You want to win – to play WC means you lost. But when you can swallow the loss and get over it, WC is actually a fun experience. You get to see new cities and new team mates.”
- You got engaged during the season. Has that effected you in any way?
“No, I don’t think so, but the last year I’ve felt that I’ve started to get older, mentally. You start to think about things you want to have in life. Things you want to do. I don’t look at things the same way as when I came here. I was 23 then, now I’m 29 – will turn 30. Of course you start thinking, and it was ready to take the next step in life.”
For the next step in his career, it’s about getting past the second round in the playoffs. On that subject, his view is exactly the same as when he came to New York.
A very big thank you goes to reader Anna for sending me the translated version of this interview.