Henrik Lundqvist can still be a factor in the postseason for the New York Rangers.
Since the NHL announced their Return To Play Plan, which will present the New York Rangers with a golden opportunity to continue what has been a hell of a ride so far, speculation has raged over the potential role of a certain future Hall of Famer.
With the Rangers set to take on the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-five qualifying series, with the winner advancing through to the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the debate as to who should start in goal for the Blueshirts is already well underway.
We’ve covered it in-depth here at Blue Line Station with Pedro Rodrigues firm in his stance that Igor Shesterkin should be the undisputed starter heading into the postseason, while Scott Esposito put forward a good argument as to why the Rangers should go with Lundqvist.
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So, in a nutshell, Shesterkin is the overwhelming choice to protect the crease for the Rangers once the games begin and, giving that I am an advocate of riding the hot hand, I would also start the Russian phenom in Game 1.
After all, the 24-year-old has conquered every level he’s played at, and he deserves the opportunity to showcase his talents in the heat of postseason battle where there will be a hell of a lot more on the line.
However, in saying that, I do believe that Lundqvist still has a significant role to play for the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if he’s not between the pipes.
For starters, should for whatever reason Shesterkin struggle or fail to adapt to the bright lights of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, then what better insurance policy to be able to fall back upon then Lundqvist?
A veteran of 115 postseason starts, with a .922 Save Against Average and a 2.28 Goals Against Average, Lundqvist knows what it takes to handle the pressure of postseason hockey and he’s got a wealth of knowledge when it comes to making a deep run.
Plus, the 38-year-old is also a slayer of the Carolina Hurricanes having absolutely owned the Canes throughout his career.
In three starts against Carolina this year, Lundqvist went 3-0-0 with an incredible .947 Save Percentage, while his best game of the 2019-20 season came in the 4-2 win over the Hurricanes on November 7, where he stood on his head with 45 saves to absolutely steal the contest.
Lundqvist is also a stellar 33-12-1 against Carolina in his lengthy NHL career, boasting a 2.00 GAA and a .934 Sv%.
In terms of trump cards, it doesn’t get much better than being able to throw Lundqvist in mid-series should Shesterkin fail to get the job done against Carolina’s array of potent weapons.
But, more importantly, Lundqvist’s wealth of experience should be just as valuable even if he doesn’t get to hit the ice against the Canes.
While Shesterkin hasn’t looked fazed during his meteoric rise through the hockey landscape, the Playoffs are a different kettle of fish entirely and a long layoff could also have a negative impact on the stud goalie.
When you consider that there are always bumps in the road during the postseason too, then Shesterkin will need a wise old head to lean on.
Lundqvist can be that figure.
He can be a mentor to both Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, offering guidance and encouragement and maybe even dishing out some tough love if and when it is needed.
Lundqvist knows how to prepare for the Playoffs, he knows how to prepare both mentally and physically for the gruelling slog that is the postseason and he knows how to get ready for a game with everything riding on it.
He can impart that wisdom onto Shesterkin if the Russian is indeed named the starter for Game 1 against Carolina, and Lundqvist can also be on hand throughout the best-of-five Play-In series to offer insight as and when it is needed.
Finally, should the Rangers need him then there is no doubt that Lundqvist will be ready and raring to go with a rather large chip on his shoulder as he bids to prove that he still has something left in the tank for next year, whether that is at Madison Square Garden or elsewhere.
But, focusing on the present day, Henrik Lundqvist still has a vital role to play for the New York Rangers even if it doesn’t involve performing his usual heroics on the ice.