Hartnett: Ranking The Top 10 Greatest Rangers Goaltenders

Sean Hartnett
August 20, 2019 - 2:42 pm
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From Lorne Chabot to Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers fans have been enthralled by superb masked men displaying acrobatics between the pipes. Though generations of netminders have shined under the Old Garden and current Madison Square Garden lights, a select few have become as identifiable as the Rangers’ crest itself.

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Though it’s difficult to compare eras given hockey’s evolution and how the position of goaltender has transformed over the decades, here’s my top-10 list of the greatest Blueshirt backstops.

#1 HENRIK LUNDQVIST

This pick was always going to divide the fan base. Lundqvist vs. Richter -- two fan favorites, two career Rangers known for clutch heroics performed under the playoff spotlight. While Richter succeeded in attaining the ultimate goal in 1994, Lundqvist is yet to lift Lord Stanley.

I don’t believe that shortcoming should count against Lundqvist’s case for top goaltender in team history. Stanley Cup championships are team accomplishments. Lundqvist was never joined by an A-1 center or a Hall of Fame defenseman and rarely played alongside point-per-game teammates.

In fact, there have only been three seasons where Lundqvist had the privilege of an 80-point plus teammate.

Jaromir Jagr (2005-06 – 123 points, 2006-07 – 96 points), Marian Gaborik (2009-10 – 86 points) and Michael Nylander (2006-07 – 83 points)

By comparison, Richter played 1994 alongside Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Sergei Zubov and Glenn Anderson. Messier, Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Adam Graves, Jeff Beukeboom and Craig MacTavish brought championship pedigree with them from the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty.

Lundqvist has never been joined by a championship-caliber supporting cast. During the Rangers’ best challenges for Lord Stanley between 2012 and 2015, only Gaborik cracked the 70-point mark in 2011-12 and Derek Stepan and Rick Nash were on-pace to finish above that mark had the 2012-13 season not been shortened by a lockout. Though Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis notably added clutch credentials, the Rangers’ scoring dried up when it mattered most.

When you fully consider the dominance and consistency of Lundqvist’s career through the prism of the largely ordinary teams he carried to unexpected heights, it’s clear why he deserves to be no. 1 on this list. From his 2005-06 rookie season through the 2015-16 season, his combined save percentage was .921. He rolled off seven consecutive seasons with a .920 save percentage or better between 2009-10 and 2015-16.

Lundqvist has upped his performances under playoff pressure. His .922 career playoff save percentage is only bettered by Tim Thomas, Braden Holtby, Tuukka Rask, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Dominik Hasek and Johnny Bower by goaltenders to appear in a minimum of 50 career playoff games. By comparison, Richter is a .909 career playoff netminder and holds a .904 mark in the regular season.

 #2 MIKE RICHTER

The career Blueshirt was pivotal in the 1993-94 Rangers ending an infamous 54-year Stanley Cup championship drought. Richter posted a sparkling .921 save percentage in the 1994 playoffs and recorded four shutouts. Though Leetch walked away with Conn Smythe Trophy, Richter was arguably just as deserving.

He again summoned incredible playoff heroics during the 1996-97 playoffs to the tune of a .932 save percentage – but the Rangers were eliminated by the rival Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. After that season, Richter’s numbers began to slip and the Rangers soon entered the playoff-barren “Dark Ages.”

Whereas Lundqvist is the generational goaltender of his era, Richter’s resume doesn’t quite match up to Hasek, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur in terms of sheer dominance. He never won the Vezina Trophy. A string of late-career injuries contributed to his aforementioned statistical downfall. His steely performances in the 1991, 1994 and 1997 playoffs are what fans will remember. Richter epitomized the term “money goalie.” He thrived when the pressure was turned up the highest.

#3 CHUCK RAYNER

Rayner’s career shares some similarities to Lundqvist’s in that he lifted middling Rangers teammates to unforeseen heights and came as close to kissing Lord Stanley as possible without getting his hands on the silver chalice. The 1950 Rangers lost out to the Detroit Red Wings in a cruel Game 7 double-overtime defeat.

Unlike Lundqvist, Rayner excelled as a superb puck handler and adventurously strayed from his crease. His sensational play during the 1949-50 season earned him the Hart Trophy. He is one of only seven goaltenders to have won MVP honors and you wonder what could have been if not for the 1953 knee injury that curtailed his career. Rayner was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.

#4 ED GIACOMIN

The first goaltender to have his number retired in team history, Giacomin was adored by The Garden Faithful like few before him or since. Making his NHL debut at 26, Giacomin impressed in year two. For five straight seasons, he was an All-Star and he finished top-10 in Hart Trophy voting three times. Unfortunately, Bobby Orr and “The Big, Bad Bruins” bettered the Blueshirts in the 1972 Stanley Cup Final. He joined the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.

#5 DAVE KERR

Kerr backstopped the Rangers to the 1940 Stanley Cup championship and commanded teammates with his vocal leadership. Oddly, Kerr opted to retire early at age 31 and you wonder what he may have accomplished had he extended his prime. His microscopic 1.57 goals-against average in six playoffs with the Blueshirts is a testament to his postseason mastery.

#6 JOHN VANBIESBROUCK

“The Beezer” reigned supreme at The Garden prior to Richter’s emergence. An excellent puck-moving goaltender, Vanbiesbrouck was often in the Vezina Trophy conversation and captured the award in 1986 and later reached even greater heights with the expansion Florida Panthers.

#7 GUMP WORSLEY

After winning the Calder Trophy, Worsley spent a decade with the Rangers without winning a playoff series before eventually capturing four Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens.

#8 JOHN DAVIDSON

Davidson excelled between the pipes during the 1979 playoffs – but the Rangers ran into the buzzsaw that was the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson and Guy Lafleur.

#9 GILLES VILLEMURE

An outstanding backup, Villemure shared the Vezina Trophy with Giacomin in 1971.

#10 ANDY AITKENHEAD

His NHL career was brief but was highlighted by leading the Blueshirts to a 1933 Stanley Cup title. The emergence of Kerr relegated Aitkenhead to the minors.

 Check back Thursday for a rundown of the Rangers’ 10 all-time greatest defensemen.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey