By Sean Hartnett
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Lundqvist made 43 saves in a standout performance to guide the Rangers to a 5-2 road victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. In the third period, the Blueshirts were outshot 22-8 and Lundqvist came up huge by making 21 saves to cap his 30th victory of the season.
Lundqvist now has 404 career wins. No goaltender has earned more victories in their first 12 NHL seasons.
The sensational Swede is also the first goaltender in league history to earn at least 30 wins in 11 of his first 12 seasons. If not for the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season robbing Lundqvist of 34 potential appearances, he surely would have made it 12-for-12. Lundqvist shared the league lead that season with 24 wins in 43 games played.
On Tuesday, Lundqvist passed Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr to pull into 10th place on the all-time wins list. He is now just four wins shy of moving past legendary Glenn Hall for sole possession of ninth place. Lundqvist stands a strong chance of eclipsing Tony Esposito (423) and Jacques Plante (437) next season. The Aye, Sweden, native is 43 victories away from tying sixth-place Terry Sawchuk.
Only three goaltenders in NHL history have recorded 30 or more victories in 11 different seasons. Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy are the others to previously accomplish this feat. Brodeur won 30 games in 14 seasons, while Roy registered 30 wins or greater in 13 seasons. Lundqvist has proven his longevity and has a good chance of equaling Brodeur’s record of most 30-win campaigns.
Typically, Lundqvist has raised his game to peak level during the push to the playoffs. This season is no different. He is 12-5-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in his last 19 appearances. His early season hiccups are far away in the rearview mirror. You’re looking at a goaltender whose confidence is flowing. The Lundqvist you’re seeing now is in full command of his crease. He’s square to shooters and playing with a high stance. The jitterbug movements and him pressing hard to do too much have been stamped out of his game.
As a Florida power play expired late in the first period, Lundqvist made a jaw-dropping save that ensured a 2-0 first-intermission lead. The acrobatic netminder stretched his body toward his right post, but was able to stick out his left skate to deny Jussi Jokinen. At 12:47 of the second period, his quick positioning robbed a spinning Colton Sceviour of a rebound chance after an Aaron Ekblad deflected shot landed on Scevior’s stick.
Season after season, Lundqvist pushes himself into dominant form in time for the playoffs. You can bank on it like a rooster crowing in the morning. Lundqvist’s career is built on responding to challenges, and he’s always rewarding the trust of die-hard fans.
His greatest challenge obviously remains attaining that elusive Stanley Cup ring, but one thing I can’t understand is the small, but outspoken element of the Rangers’ fan base that have a tendency to distrust Lundqvist. I guess there’s always going to be a few characters like that in a large crowd, but it’s time they get aboard the train and back their franchise goaltender who has done so much season after season to push the Blueshirts to fantastic heights.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey