By Dmitry Chesnokov
Henrik Lundqvist already has a silver medal to his credit this year. Could he add more championship hardware with the New York Rangers this postseason?
I recently caught up with the goalie to discuss the Rangers’ Stanley Cup chances, comparing his current and former coaches, the Sochi Games and how he relaxes in his down time.
Q. You broke quite a few records for the New York Rangers recently, and the ceremony the team held for you was appreciated by every hockey fan.
LUNDQVIST: “It was definitely a special moment in my career. Skating over there, I saw my mom standing there crying. It was hard not to get all emotional. It was just very special for me, to have my family on the ice to share that moment with me was so great on so many levels.”
Would you say this team is the deepest Rangers team in your tenure?
“It’s so hard to compare year to year, I think. Different years you have different strengths. But I have to agree that we have a lot of talent on this team, especially lately we have been able to win games in different ways. That is a huge thing, because that’s what it is going to come down to – you are not going to play great every night, but you need players to find different ways to win games. Right now all of our focus is, obviously, to get into the playoffs. But once you’re in, it’s all open. I think there are so many teams this year that can go all the way. That, I think, is exciting to know and to feel that it’s up for grabs for sure. Right now it is exciting to be a part of. There are a lot of teams fighting for the last two spots, and we have to do whatever we can do get in and go for it.”
The Rangers have been getting into the playoffs for a few years now. For a team like yours, when is simply getting in is not going to be good enough?
“Well, every year you go into the season your goal is to go for it, it is to win the Cup. We made it to the Conference Finals a couple of years ago, and I thought it was, obviously, a great experience; we took a couple of steps in the right direction. If you look over the last two years at teams who have been playing the most playoff games the Rangers will be right up there. We played a lot of playoff hockey, and that shows some consistency. But then you say ‘When is the time to win?’ Right now we are challenging ourselves to get in, and then really go for it. And I think we have the team for that. No question. We just need for everything to go our way at the right time, have everybody play at their absolute best.”
This team is different indeed, but there is also a new coach this year. For you personally, what has been the main difference between John Tortorella’s New York Rangers and Alain Vigneault’s?
“We play a different system now where we play differently in our own end. I think it gives us the ability to have more speed coming out of the zone. I think this year we create more chances and score more goals, which is huge. As to what is the main change, the main factor for us? We’ll see. So far this year, especially the second half, the fact that we have been able to win in different ways shows that a lot of good. We have also shown a lot of character coming back in a number of games when we were behind a couple of goals and win those games. I like the character. I like the attitude in the room. A lot of guys want to be better and to win. That’s what it comes down to.”
You’re 32. You signed a new long term contract recently. Do you ever feel the time is running out a little bit to win the Cup?
“Hmm… I definitely feel like the time is flying. But I don’t feel like it’s running out. I think I am right in the middle of it, and I am enjoying the ride. It’s a lot of fun. And it is a great challenge how we work every day. You’re in New York, there are a lot of expectations, and there is a lot of pressure. But it’s fun too! As long as you look at it the right way. It is a fun challenge. It is fun to be a part of it. You just try to focus on what’s going on this year. I try not to think about how many years I have left, or how many years I have already been here.
“But of course recently with the ceremony and the fact that I broke a couple of records I have been thinking about the past, about how I got here. The nine years I have been with the Rangers have been awesome so far. But I still hope that the best is ahead of me.”
You recently became a face of Advil, and I saw this commercial with a huge rhino breaking up into hundreds of pucks when it hits you. And you face almost 1700 shots on goal per season on average. We all heard about Chara’s or Weber’s shot power. But who, apart from those two, has the hardest shot in the League that we may not even think of?
“Good question! Chara and Weber definitely have the hardest shots. You definitely have some bruises after those! But there are a few guys who have a bomb of a shot. Actually Kevin Klein on our team has a big bomb. I knew he was a great player when he came to us, but I was surprised as I didn’t know he could shoot the puck so hard. But a lot of times it’s not about how hard you can shoot it, but rather if you can put it in the right place all the time. Playing with Erik Karlsson at the Olympics I was so impressed with how he was shooting the puck. I knew he had a great shot. He shoots it hard, but also he puts it exactly where he wants it. That’s impressive.”
About the Olympics, what was your reaction when Nicklas Backstrom was pulled from the locker room right before the Final due to doping allegations?
“It was shocking to lose one of your best players just like that. We already had Sedin and Zetterberg out. We were missing the top three center forwards. It was just all too tough for us playing the Canadian team that was so strong and playing really well. It was a tough challenge for us. But overall it was a great tournament. But it always hurts when you are that close.”
How did your previous Olympic experience help you manage your fitness level this season factoring in the tournament into the NHL schedule?
“I felt pretty good going into the Olympic tournament – I had five or six straight wins. For me the turning point this season was in mid-December. I feel I was more consistent in my preparation and the way I was playing. The key for me is always preparation, the way I think. Sometimes it’s hard to control your mind though, focus on the right things. You work as hard as you can at practice, but in the end it comes down to how you approach things mentally. You learn a lot when you go through stretches when things are not going well. You learn about yourself. You learn about how people react around you. As long as you think about this the right way, you can come back even stronger. You just have to think that this is a brief thing that’s only going to help you going forward.”
What do you do then to take your mind off of things? Do you still jam the guitar?
“This year I haven’t played that much, actually. I wish I could play more. It’s one of the things I definitely really enjoy, and it helps me relax and get away from the game. But I have a family now. I am taking care of my girl Charlise. Now when I get home there’s no time to think about hockey, and it’s kind of nice. When I am at the rink I am super focused, I am in the game, I am trying to get better. But when I get home I am doing something else. I am saving energy, recharging. It’s always about finding the right balance.”
The way a lot of fans view the Rangers is that you are the key to the team’s success. What does the team need to make sure you’re not the only major key to winning the Cup?
“The key for us has been that all four lines have been going really well. We need to continue that. We need everybody to do their part to make this team better. It’s not going to be about one guy, or the goalie. We need everybody to pull together. That’s what we have been doing, and that’s why we have been having success over the last few months. Starting probably in January we felt like we were all on the same page all the time. As long as we keep that, we can do something good.”