Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 8/23/12

There’s no denying the importance of primary and secondary scoring, shutdown defense, and great special teams play. But more than anything, hockey games are won and lost based on the ability to stop the puck. Every coach and player will tell you that a team goes only as far as its goalie takes them, and if you’re not convinced, how about this quick statistic for you: five of the last 11 Stanley Cup Final MVP’s have been netminders. A list of these names features some of the sport’s all time greats, including Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. And if the New York Rangers want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in the near future, Henrik Lundqvist will need to lead the charge and join that sacred list.

“King” Henrik was nothing short of spectacular this past season, posting a 1.97 GAA and a .930 save percentage. These numbers landed him a Vezina Trophy, but more importantly a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. New York has come to expect brilliance from Lundqvist over the years due to his consistent play, and the organization was frankly lost until the emergence of this Swedish superstar. He stepped between the pipes in 2005-2006, and has only missed the playoffs once.  

The numbers speak for themselves, really:

But the team around him in his short career has never been as poised to win a Cup as they are now, heading into the 2012-2013 season, and if the Rangers are to be successful yet again, the X, Y, and Z factors will all be Henrik Lundqvist. They say that John Tortorella is the brains behind the Blueshirts, so if that is true, then Lundqvist is undoubtedly the heart.

Though during the season the Rangers had strong and timely scoring, one cannot say the same of their playoff run. Henrik Lundqvist was the reason the Rangers made it as far as they did, stealing games in both the Ottawa and Washington series. Likewise, it came as no surprise that when Hank let his guard down every so slightly in games four through six against the Devils, the magical season came to an abrupt end. But hopefully the addition of Rick Nash and the continued emergence of the youth in the franchise will fix that by filling in the rare gaps in Hank’s game, and finally put a championship banner next to that of 1994 in the process.

While Henrik Lundqvist has the potential to lead Gotham City to victory, this window of opportunity is shrinking. At 30 years of age, there may be a three to four-year horizon if the team is to take full advantage of Henrik in his prime. YES, I know, Brodeur has played into his 40’s, but Henrik’s harsh butterfly style will shorten his career because of the pressure he constantly exerts on his knees. Plain and simple, the New York Rangers must win now while Hank is in his prime. 

The Blueshirts could loose any player on their roster and quite honestly remain Stanley Cup “contenders”; that is, any player except Henrik Lundqvist. He has been and will continue be the backbone of the franchise, and he will prove that once again in 2012-2013. Although his career has been relatively brief, his regular season numbers compare favorably to those of Martin Broduer. Broduer over his long career has posted a 2.23 GAA with a .913 SV%, while Henrik has compiled similar stats with a 2.27 GAA with a .912 SV%. But real comparisons will be held in abeyance until he brings home the hardware.

His numbers have led two or three different Ranger lineups to the playoffs where the post-season was probably not merited from  a “team” effort standpoint. Rick Nash, Brad Richards, or even Ryan McDonagh may be the next Conn Smythe Trophy winner, but they will not be playing for a Stanley Cup next year if Henrik Lundqvist does not have another brilliant season.   

** Follow Alex Klein on Twitter: @kleinale1992 **

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