NEW YORK—The Rangers do not have any hometown heroes on their roster, but that does not mean that they are lacking for New Yorkers. Being born here is not a necessity—to be a New Yorker is to be weave oneself into the fabric of the city.
That's the reason that the Madison Square Garden faithful embrace Sean Avery so thoroughly. The winger may have been born in Pickering, Ont., but he is a New Yorker. So, too, is Henrik Lundqvist.
“He’s been here a long time and has a lot of strong relationships in the city,” Avery told Sporting News. “They certainly love him here. It’s different for him because he’s a goalie and they’re all just super weird and in their own world, so it’s not as visible as maybe somebody else, but he’s definitely, I would consider him a New Yorker, and I don’t think he’s planning on leaving when he’s done playing.
“He’s the King. He wears great suits, drives fancy cars and looks like a supermodel. He’s pretty much everything that I would think a hockey player would want to be.”
That includes Lundqvist’s on-ice accomplishments. A two-time NHL leader in shutouts, including with last season's 11, as well as a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, the Swedish goaltender may be leading the Rangers into the Winter Classic in the midst of his best season; Lundqvist has a 15-7-4 record, and his .936 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average well outpace the top marks of what has already been a stellar career.
Lundqvist's status as one of the Winter Classic's marquee performers will mean wide exposure to casual hockey fans—something he has missed out on, considering that he has never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. A deeper run is expected this season—Lundwvist has never had a more talented Rangers team in front of him. The 29-year-old is ready for that, though as much as playing in New York increases fame and scrutiny, the city also offers plenty of respite from all that stardom entails.
“The people that you run into, maybe half of them are from somewhere else,” Lundqvist said. “They’re not aware of what’s going on with the Rangers or hockey in general. You can live a pretty normal life. Sometimes people recognize you, but there’s so many people that don’t follow hockey or don’t even live in New York—they’re just here for a visit. It’s a good place to blend in. You still want to play in a city where people care and you have a big fan base, which we do. It’s great that at the same time, you can live a normal life and be relaxed.”
For most people in New York, normal does not include jam sessions with John McEnroe, as chronicled on HBO, but such are the perks of Lundqvist’s gig.
He has earned them. In 237 games since the start of the 2008-09 season, Lundqvist has allowed more than three goals on 39 occasions. Of the 37 NHL goalies to play at least 100 games over the past three and a half seasons, only Tim Thomas has had a lower percentage of bad nights, with 28 games out of 177 in which he allowed four or more goals. All Thomas did last season was win the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies in the process becoming a demigod in New England.
“The difference between the top five goalies in the league and the rest of the league is very minimal,” said Martin Biron, the Rangers’ veteran backup. “It’s just the consistency in the goalie. When everybody’s at their best, they’re on the same platform. Those top five goalies, what they do, they consistently bring their A-plus game. A-plus game, A-plus game, A-plus game. That’s what makes them the top. So, yes, (Lundqvist) is one of those five guys that bring it every night, and he is—I play with him, so I would say he is the best in the league. The difference with him is he’s not just at his best one out of three games, or two out of four games. He’s at his best every game. That’s what separates him from a lot of other goalies.”
What allows Lundqvist to achieve that separation is what is behind the mask, and behind his piercing blue eyes. It is not as evident during games as it is afterward.
Lundqvist comes into the Rangers’ locker room and sits in reflection for several minutes while reporters fill their notebooks and recorders with quotes from his teammates. He will answer every question, but only when he is ready, only after he has processed his latest performance. It is a reflection of the mental aspect of his game, and his life, that sets Lundqvist apart.
“He’s been gifted with a level of focus that’s much deeper than anyone I’ve played with,” Avery said. “As he’s gotten older, he got married, got a new business manager in his life—all of these things help. As you get older and life gets more complicated, you still have to shut everything else out and worry about the game, and he’s mastered that, for sure.”
Lundqvist noted those emergent complexities in an evolving life as he talked about living “in a bubble” for his first couple of seasons in the NHL after coming over from the Swedish Elite League. He has popped out now, and become part of the city where he plies his trade—not just an employee on location, but a New Yorker.
“New York, people are busy here,” Lundqvist said. “Everybody’s going somewhere. It’s not just hanging around. It’s a tough city. Tough in a good way. It’s a challenge. People are working hard, and they’re on the way somewhere—work, or just life.”
In a city where everyone is on the move, where is Lundqvist going?
WASHINGTON -- Thanks to HBO, we all learned a little something extra about New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist: he plays in one awesome jam band.
In the second episode of the great behind-the-scenes show, Lundqvist was followed on a day off to a studio where he was seen playing right beside American tennis legend John McEnroe and Jay Weinberg, son of Max Weinberg, on the drums.
How does a Swedish hockey player end up playing alongside such a group of guys?
"You live in New York, play there a few years obviously you're going to run into people," Lundqvist said. "John McEnroe, I've been running into him a bunch of times. He's a hockey fan and I'm a tennis fan. So we've been talking about playing music together. I said finally this year, 'Let's do it, let's do something fun.' We're doing a charity event in February, rock it out a little bit.
"Then the drummer Jay Weinberg, I met him at a Bruce [Springsteen] concert in Sweden actually, when his dad was playing. It's fun. If you play in New York you get to meet a lot of interesting people, sometimes people that you admire and respect a lot, so it's a great place."
So add musician to things we already knew about Lundqvist, such as his stellar fashion sense. Oh, and the fact that he's a damn good goalie.
We know that because New York isn't just a great place to live, it's a great place to play when you're playing for a Rangers team like this.
"So far it's been a good year," Lundqvist said. "It's been fun, it's been fun."
That usually happens when you are fighting for the top spot in the conference with every game you play. Sure beats the alternative of the past few seasons where the Rangers were fighting for the eighth spot in the East instead of first.
Make no mistake about: The Rangers have grown as a team. They have a young core of players that is only going to get better -- as a side note, watch out if Brandon Dubinsky regains his scoring form that he's beginning to show again -- and they had a pretty notable upgrade to the scoring this summer with Brad Richards in free agency. They are a very good group of skaters.
But Lundqvist has been and still is the straw that stirs the Rangers drink. He has earned the right to be referred to as an elite goaltender, and not just because he plays in New York. He's been that good in recent seasons for the Blueshirts. Without him, you wonder if they make the playoffs as often as they have. OK, I'll save you the wondering -- they don't.
But now he has help.
"I mean the reason why we're in pretty good shape in the standings is not that we're that much better than everybody else," Lundqvist said, "but it's that we've been consistent in how we play and how hard we have to play, so that's been paying off for us."
One of the ways that they play is a commitment to blocking shots. Defenseman Dan Girardi has been near the top of the shot-blocking list in the league the last couple of seasons and team captain Ryan Callahan isn't afraid to get in the way of a puck either. In the first period of the Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday, Callahan was credited with four blocked shots, one of them actually led to a Dubinsky goal, giving Callahan an assist. He then was a mad man during a later penalty kill, scrambling and diving all over the ice, getting credit for three blocks in one shift.
"Guys take a lot of pride in that [blocking shots]," Lundqvist said. "You have a style. We have to play hard and we have to block shots, it's part of our game. Guys are doing a great job of that.
"To play well as a goalie you want to feel the support from the team in front of you. It helps if you have a good structure, you know what's going on and what type of chances are going to come up."
Well, it's working, because Lundqvist is playing as well as he ever has. In his case, that's saying something. Through 26 games this season, Lundqvist is on pace for career bests in save percentage (currently .936) and goals against average (1.95 per game).
Maybe that has something to do with coach John Tortorella's plan to play Lundqvist less this year, too. Only once in the past five seasons has Lundqvist played less than 70 games -- last season with 68. He was up there with the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff for biggest workhorses in the league. Now backup Martin Biron is being asked to and is carrying some more of the load. Rather well, too.
Before he took the loss against the Caps, Biron had a 7-1-0 record in his spot duty with a 1.84 GAA and .933 save percentage. That makes it a lot easier for the Rangers to stick to the plan this year and play Lundqvist around 65 games or so, possibly even a few less.
"I'm trying to get used to not playing as much. Last few years the plan was for me to play around 65 games, around there. It hasn't turned out that way," Lundqvist said. "We're [he and Biron] a good team. Benny [Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire] and Marty work well together, push each other to work hard."
Well whatever it is, it's working.
The funny thing this season is that everything seems to be coming together for the Rangers. The spotlight was turned up on them this season anyway thanks to the Richards signing and all else they are experiencing this year.
"It's been a fun year. It's been an interesting year starting in Europe and then HBO and the Winter Classic coming up," Lundqvist said. "It's been a lot of ... I don't want to say distractions ... fun things going on. Things we don't normally see in a normal regular season. It's been a fun experience. I think we all look forward to the Winter Classic here as well.
"But it's good for us to have these different things happening during the year, learn to deal with it. It could be a distraction, it hasn't been one for us. We've been focused on what we have to do, with all the travel starting the year, the HBO, Winter Classic coming up. So, it's a test for us to maintain our focus on the games."
As he said, they've done that. He's done that.
But they're all hoping to have a lot more fun by season's end.
"It's still so early, but I'm happy with the way I've been playing so far, but there's a long way to go here," Lundqvist said. "We definitely raised the bar this year though. Our goal is to play in June. That's our goal."
If this is the Rangers' year, maybe Lundqvist can get the band together for a big show on the streets of Manhattan this summer.
It's hard to believe that in a few days we'll be stepping on the ice at Citizens Bank Park in Philly for the Winter Classic.
Pond hockey is where it all got started for most hockey players - for me, it's where I first decided to jump in goal and let my brother Joel shoot on me. So to be able to play an NHL game on an outdoor rink really takes me back.
The other day at practice, I started breaking in my new Winter Classic mask. I actually had two masks made so that one of them could be auctioned off to raise money for the Garden of Dreams Foundation, an organization very close to me that makes dreams come true for children facing obstacles.
People keep asking me what I think of HBO's "24/7" show, and I have to say that when I first found out that the cameras would be following us around literally all of the time, it was pretty scary to think about.
Now that the crew has been with us for a while, it's easy to forget they're even there. They're a great bunch of guys, and they really know how to let us focus on playing. It has been fun to see the personalities of guys come out - like Artie (Artem Anisimov), Boyler (Brian Boyle) and Prusty (Brandon Prust). Plus, I think it's cool for the fans to be able to see what goes on behind the scenes. We're a pretty tight group, which you can probably tell from the show. Overall, it's been a good experience, and it will be a nice thing to look back on for all of us.
Happy New Year to all - but especially all the Rangers fans. We hope to see a lot of you down in Philly on Jan. 2, cheering us on like we know you can!
Henrik & Therese at the Knicks Christmas day home opener.
It’s safe once again for Henrik Lundqvist to go back to the Garden to watch the Knicks play.
It wasn’t always that way.
After being pulled from nets on Feb. 3 of last season after allowing three goals on 12 shots in 35:04 of a 3-2 loss to the Devils a night after having been photographed with Justin Bieber on celebrity row watching the Knicks play the Mavericks, the King was strongly discouraged, if not specifically prohibited, by coach John Tortorella from returning to watch Carmelo Anthony and his teammates the rest of the way.
But there Lundqvist was on Christmas Day, watching the Knicks beat the Celtics in the NBA season opener.
“Well, we had won four in a row,” a smiling Lundqvist told The Post following yesterday’s morning skate at the Garden that preceded last night’s match against the Islanders.
Now it’s five straight for the Rangers, and primarily because of Lundqvist, who recorded 28 saves in the 3-0 victory over their suburban cousins that represented his third shutout of the season and 38th of his NHL career, 11 shy of the franchise record owned by Ed Giacomin.
“I think I’ll be able to go back now,” Lundqvist said after it had ended. “I’m glad I didn’t jinx it.”
I had a feeling Torts had banned him from participating in certain off-ice activities after that Justin Bieber encounter. As I recall, Henrik had an autograph signing appearance scheduled through Steiner Sports some time after that, which he postponed until after the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs.
“I’m just comfortable wearing a suit, especially if I’m going to a game. I have a good feeling inside when I put on my suit and drive down to the Garden. I know it’s game time.”
Tiger of Sweden suit Gucci oxfords, $465, and John Lobb belt, $435, both at mrporter.com
A lot has changed in Madison Square Garden in the seven years that Henrik Lundqvist has been the New York Rangers’ superstar goaltender. This year, the “World’s Most Famous Arena” underwent a major makeover, completely transforming its aesthetic — and so has the team that Lundqvist, 29, leads. “This team dresses a lot better now than it did a few years ago,” says the devastatingly dapper Swede as he fusses with his Hermès belt. Fresh from practice at the team’s Westchester facility, the 29-year-old newlywed (he married his longtime sweetheart, Therese Andersson, this summer) settles on a slim blue suit from his go-to label, Tiger of Sweden, and a tie clip his new wife made for him. “It’s funny because I took some heat coming here my first year. Some of the older guys thought it was funny, like my suits were pretty tight-fitting and skinny ties,” he says. “There’s a lot of younger guys now, and more than half the team wears tailored suits.” And though hockey players seem to be known more for missing teeth than razor-sharp style, the Rangers are the exception. In 2008, the team’s on-and-off (now on again) pugilist, Sean Avery, made waves when he landed an internship at Vogue. Lundqvist frequents Fashion Week and, despite being one of the NHL’s top goalies, looks like he might be more suited to the catwalk than the ice. “It’s not just me and Sean. It’s fun that a lot of the guys love fashion now,” says Lundqvist, who was photographed, along with some of his teammates, at downtown sports bar the Fulton. “When you see Henrik dressed like that, you have to bring your A-game,” quips 27-year-old defenseman Dan Girardi. “We all know Henrik is the best-dressed, and he takes pride in that.” And if Lundqvist has raised the bar off the ice, he refuses to say if the Broadway Blueshirts are the most fashionable franchise in the NHL. His teammate Brandon Prust isn’t so coy when asked if his team rules in the style department. “I would say so. I think we’re just getting better and better. Everybody’s style keeps increasing,” says Prust, who arrived in the Big Apple in 2009 from Calgary. “When I came to New York, I really got into fashion, and I kind of changed my own style. It’s almost like a competition, too. You want to be better-dressed than the next guy,” says the 27-year-old West Village resident. The team’s newest superstar, Brad Richards, 31, has experienced the same culture shock since signing a $60 million contract with the Rangers this summer. “People here put a lot more work into how they dress,” says the former Dallas Star. “As a whole team, I was surprised that everyone was so well turned-out. Unlike other cities, you’re meeting people who work in fashion and are exposed to designers,” says Richards, who adds that he doesn’t try to copy anyone, especially the team’s most flamboyant fashionisto. “The aura of Sean [Avery] pushing people in what they wear isn’t really true. He’ll toy with certain things that are a little off the wall. Everybody knows he has his own style, and everyone respects that,” adds the TriBeCa resident. But if the team looks like a walking GQ spread, the players are not precious when it comes to game time — a side fans will see Wednesday at 10 p.m. when HBO’s docuseries “24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” debuts. The raw, fly-on-the-wall show chronicles the lead-up to the Jan. 2 game, when the Rangers will take on the Philadelphia Flyers at Philly’s Citizens Bank Park for this year’s outdoor Winter Classic.
ShareThis Henrik broke out his new Winter Classic pads during todays practice. See below for a picture. I know it isn't the greatest or clearest picture, but it's what the Rangers released, check them out:
Disclaimer: All of these photos were found at public sites; however, if you are in any of the fan photos and you would like me to remove a photo for you, do not hesitate to tell me as I will surely take it down for you. Also, as always if you would like to submit a photo of yourself and Henrik to the blog do not hesitate to e-mail me or post the photo on The Henrik Lundqvist Blog Facebook page.