Henrik Lundqvist isn’t ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.
The New York Rangers’ legendary goaltender told Swedish newspaper, Göteborgs-Posten that he has at least “another few years” left in the tank while disclosing that he’s still gunning for the No. 1 starter’s job within a crowded depth chart.
It’s been a nightmare season for the 38-year-old Lundqvist, who was 10-12-3 with a career-worst .905 save percentage and 3.16 goals-against average.
Diminishing play — which has only been exacerbated by a suspect defense — saw the veteran demoted to the third-string goalie role in the Rangers’ three-netminder system that also includes Alexandar Georgiev and the newcomer Igor Shesterkin, who is expected to be the second coming of Lundqvist himself.
“What am I supposed to say about that?,” Lundqvist asked in the interview translated by noted Rangers blog, Forever Blueshirts. “I had a picture of how the season would develop, what I had in mind.”
“When things turned out the way they did, I was surprised. But at the same time, part of me understands the situation.”
That situation, at least on the surface, is that head coach David Quinn and management are beginning to phase out Lundqvist, who became one of the franchise’s greatest netminders over his 15 seasons with the team.
“I’m not blind. They’re thinking ahead,” Lundqvist admitted. “There are many pieces that go into building a team right now, but also for the future.”
The Rangers defied expectations before the 2019-20 NHL season was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Believed to be a rebuilding side — which they are — that will be in the basement of the Eastern Conference, the Blueshirts were in the traditional postseason conversation when things were cut short.
Under the NHL’s accepted return-to-play plan, the Rangers are a No. 11 seed in the league’s expanded postseason format where they will play the Carolina Hurricanes.
While Lundqvist was the odd-man-out on most nights down the stretch — he only made six appearances in goal from Jan. 11 to the NHL’s halt on March 12 — he holds a favorable record against the Carolina Hurricanes during his career, going 33-12-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. That includes a 3-0-0 mark against them this season.
“Obviously it is disappointing to not play as much as you want. That’s where the disappointment is. It’s more … not on them [the Rangers], but more that it became as it became,” Lundqvist said. “And if I had not been disappointed, then I sell myself short. I want to play, to deliver at a high level. If I don’t, I will be disappointed.”
It remains to be seen if those numbers against Carolina will be enough to usurp Shesterkin from his perceived perch as the team’s No. 1 goalie moving forward. The 24-year-old made his NHL debut in January and won 10 of his first 12 games before play stopped.
But that isn’t stopping Lundqvist from dreaming about a return to the top spot on the depth chart.
“I have to fight if I want to go back and have that place in the net,” he said.