Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist makes a save in front of Vegas Golden Knights right wing Alex Tuch on Dec. 16, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.

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Hartnett: With Their Lack Of Hustle, Rangers Are Letting Down Lundqvist, Fans

36-Year-Old Goalie Carrying Team On His Back

Sean Hartnett
December 17, 2018 - 12:22 pm
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Gray, rainy skies surrounded Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Inside the arena, Henrik Lundqvist weathered a different kind of storm for three periods before the Vegas Golden Knights prevailed in overtime with a 4-3 victory.

Lundqvist’s teammates fed the Golden Knights’ offense through a combination of passive defending and mistake-filled sequences. In all, Lundqvist was forced into making 37 saves on 41 shots. He faced 15 shots in the first period, 13 in the second, 12 in the third and one in overtime.

Lately, the 36-year-old netminder has been subjected to contests in which the Rangers are heavily outchanced, forcing Lundqvist to perform some kind of sorcery to steal points.

This was the case Friday, when the Blueshirts couldn’t see out a three-goal lead and surrendered four unanswered goals to the Arizona Coyotes to lose 4-3 in overtime. On Sunday, it took the Rangers two full periods of sleepwalking before they woke up and matched Vegas’ compete level in the third period.

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Following the defeat, head coach David Quinn described his team’s performance as “embarrassing” and said the Rangers “hid for two periods.” Forward Mats Zuccarello said the point earned Sunday belonged to Lundqvist because “we were not there.”

These no-show, leave-everything-to-Lundqvist occurrences have come far too frequently this season. This kind of mentality was supposed to leave the building when Quinn ushered in a credo of in-your-face, fully committed hockey.

The heavy workloads Lundqvist is facing can be shown in the numbers by the 34.1 shots against per game that the Rangers have averaged this season. Currently, that’s fifth most in the league and a whisker away from being third worst.

How many more times does Quinn need to reinforce the basics of effort, intensity and net-front defending before the Rangers wake up and play like the team this city deserves? Just when I thought the Rangers flipped the switch and left the no-show nights behind them, the old habits crept up again.

How many more times does Lundqvist have to skate over and bark at his teammates during a stoppage in play before these players screw their heads on straight? This is New York. This is Original Six. This is the franchise of Andy Bathgate, Vic Hadfield, Mark Messier and Mike Richter. If these guys can’t get themselves up for playing at the mecca that is Madison Square Garden and match the effort level of their intrepid goaltender, then they simply don’t belong here.

You know, the franchise that does everything first-class and all the players around the league know it? When Keith Yandle was here, he wrote an eloquent piece in The Players’ Tribune titled “New York, Let’s Go To Work.” Yandle revealed that his first experience of being a Ranger was a helicopter ride straight to the Garden that the team arranged. He clearly loved it here, and he repaid New Yorkers with outflowing passion on the ice.

The way that the players are treated here, the way that these loyal fans stuck with the Blueshirts through a 54-year title drought and will stick with them however long the next Stanley Cup championship takes should be repaid with New York hustle.

The Rangers lost plenty of talent and a lot of character in recent years. Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, Brad Richards, Dominic Moore, Yandle, etc. aren’t around anymore to provide rallying cries, wisdom and straight talk.

I’m sick of writing the following sentence: Henrik Lundqvist deserves better.

The Rangers elected not to name a captain ahead of this season. This franchise has benefitted from some terrific captains during Lundqvist’s 14 years at the Garden, including plenty of personalities who didn’t need a "C" on their sweaters to stand up and lead.

Lundqvist cannot wear the captain’s "C" due to league rules prohibiting goaltenders from being captains or alternate captains. He doesn’t need an extra letter on the front of his jersey. We all know he’s been the heartbeat and soul of this team for some time.

"King Henrik” will turn 37 in March. His time of standing between the pipes is running out. He loves this organization too much to abandon it. Seeing him lift Lord Stanley in any other uniform would be wrong. He only wants to win here – for this franchise and for these fans. He’s willing to wait as long as it takes for the Rangers to rebuild themselves into a winner.

Do it for him.