NEW YORK | New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy Wednesday, the fifth time he has received that distinction during his career.
“It means a lot,” Lundqvist said. “I’m really proud to be in that category, and it’s been an interesting year and a different year. Shorter season, tight schedule and things maybe didn’t go our way all the time but when you have to work really hard to get back in it, back in the race and then finally get in it’s just a big reward.”
Lundqvist went 24-16-3 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage during the regular season. The 31-year-old is a finalist along with Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks.
“I want to be up there I want to be recognized as a good goalie, and when people appreciate what you do it’s always a fun thing,” Lundqvist said. “I’m really proud to be in that category with some great goalies. When you look on all the teams now, everybody has good goalies. The standards are really high, the competition is so hard, you have to put it all in here to stay up there.”
Asked what Lundqvist meant to the Rangers, coach John Tortorella said “it’s everything.”
“He’s the backbone of our club,” Tortorella said. “I think he’s a special athlete as far as just how he plays and just how he competes. It helps the team in front of him on how he plays; it forces the team in front of him to play the right way.”
Lundqvist pointed out that New York’s up-and-down season made being a Vezina finalist more special than years past. He was also a finalist in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2011-12.
“It’s not very surprising,” Rangers winger Rick Nash said of Lundqvist’s impressive season. “He’s obviously probably one of the best goalies in the world. He’s the backbone of this team and helped us turn everything around early on when we were struggling. I can’t say enough about him.”
Tortorella went into this lockout-shortened, 48-game season intending to give Lundqvist more rest, thanks to the presence of reliable backup goaltender Martin Biron. It just didn’t work out that way, as Lundqvist tied for the league lead with 43 starts.
“We were still going to try to get him some rest, but as we went through our year and we were fighting along trying to get in at the end of the year, I played him more than we certainly expected to, but you have to make those adjustments along the way,” Tortorella said.
Lundqvist tied for the league lead in victories and was a major reason the Rangers overcame some struggles to make the playoffs. There was never a doubt in Tortorella’s mind about leaning heavily on his starter.
“I think in the past number of years here of late, you’d always have your starting goalie, you’d never take him out,” Tortorella said. “I think more and more teams kind of flip-flop their goalies. And certainly it’s nothing against the goalies that have been here behind him, but that doesn’t cross our mind. He’s that good and that consistent. The thing I love about him is just the way he competes.”
So do his teammates.
“He’s professional,” Nash said. “Playing with goalies, they always have their own routines and things like that, and he’s no different. But I think just his passion for the game has impressed me the most.”