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Monday, May 21, 2012

Henrik Lundqvist Set to Join Elite Company


Henrik Lundqvist gets plenty of love from hockey fans and the media, and rightfully so – he’s a great goaltender who consistently puts up great numbers, and he happens to be a remarkly humble guy. Also, apparently folks think he’s kinda handsome.

But he doesn’t really get that much love. He wasn’t the goaltending story in round one, as the surprising Craig Anderson played lights out and caught us all off-guard. He wasn’t the goaltending story in round two when rookie Braden Holtby caught lightning in a bottle and helped carry the Caps through 14 playoff games. And he’s not really the goaltending story in round three, with 40-year old legend Marty Brodeur finding the fountain of youth and playing great for the Devils.
He’s very well-respected, of course, but possibly not enough. We might be watching an historic season from the Swedish netminder.

He’s been nominated for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the League’s best goalie, and the Hart Trophy, awarded to the League’s most valuable player. Being that he’s the only goalie nominated for the Hart, I think it’s safe to say he’s going to win the Vezina.
But further, he’s the best player – by miles right now – on a team that could very well win the Stanley Cup, putting him as a favourite for the Conn Smythe Trophy (awarded to the MVP of playoffs). He has 1.57 goals-against-average, a .947 save percentage, and has stopped the second-most shots of anyone in playoffs (to Mike Smith, who sees a billion a night). If the Rangers find a way to get it done (six wins to go), he’d almost certainly be handed the prize.
Looking back at NHL history, only three players have ever won both the Conn Smythe and the Hart Trophy in the same season. It’s only been done four times total.
1970: Bobby Orr
1972: Bobby Orr
1977: Guy LaFleur
1985: Wayne Gretzky
How’s that for top-shelf company? Two of the game’s best players ever, and a guy who might be in the top-10. He could make the claim to that accomplishment solo.
Further, no goaltender has ever won the Vezina, Hart and Conn Smythe in a single season.
Henrik Lundqvist is in his prime, as far as goalies go (older prime than skaters). He’s a modest interview, polite and respectful to everyone, and always defers to his teammates when lauded with praise. It keeps him from getting caught up in Bryzgalov-like chaos, and keeps him out of most headlines. He’s rarely out of position, so he rarely has to make exceptional saves (though he can’t be faulted for having to make one on the Kovalchuk breakaway on Saturday). For a rich, handsome New York athlete, it’s amazing there’s not a Jeremy Lin-like buzz around this guy.
We could be watching one of the greatest seasons an NHLer has ever had. Consistency ain’t sexy (well, maybe it is in his case), so it’s time to give the guy his just due. Something special is going on in New York.

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