Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rangers Season Will Rise or Fall On The Shoulders of Their King, Henrik Lundqvist

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
At the beginning of every New York Rangers season one of the talking points is about how the organization wants to lessen the workload for Henrik Lundqvist.  Over the prior four seasons, Lundqvist played 73, 70, 72 and 70 games respectively.  This season the talk was about a schedule and how Martin Biron was going to ease the burden on Lundqvist so that the total was closer to 60 than 70.  For much of the season the team has stuck to the plan regardless of who the opponent has been, but even before Biron went down yesterday the Rangers appeared to be deviating from the plan.  With the playoff race tightening Lundqvist had started each of the previous eight games. The Rangers currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference three points ahead of eighth, five points ahead of ninth and only three points behind sixth.  With the tightening in the standings it was likely they would ride Lundqvist most of the stretch run anyway, but now with Biron likely down for the rest of the regular season things will look a lot more like previous season between the pipes for New York.  
Hopefully Lundqvist made the most of that early season rest as in the final 18 games on the schedule and once can safely expect the Rangers linchpin to play in 16 or 17 of those contests.  This scenario is nothing new to him, but it certainly deviates from what they had hoped would be the situation this season with his playing time.  While far from ideal it is a situation that he has proven he can handle and even thrive in if he gets hot at the right time and this team needs that right now.
The New York Rangers have done a tremendous job this season of playing as a team and being a unit where a single player is not necessarily forced to carry the load every night.  Having said that, everyone knows that the fate of this franchise each season is determined by how far Henrik Lundqvist can carry them.  Other players have emerged this season to take some of the burden off the 28-year-old net minder, and the play of Biron had led others, including myself, to think about how players such as Marc Staal might be more irreplaceable this season.  That fallacy is now over.  There is no one else. 
As the Rangers begin the stretch run tonight with a crucial game against ninth place Buffalo the fate of this team will be on the shoulders of the man in charge of defending that 6 x 4 cage each night.  The 2010-11 team is filled with great stories of players raising their games to levels others did not expect them to be at, but the final chapter of this story will be defined by the one guy everyone expects to be the backbone of this team.  Whether the Rangers rise or fall in these next six weeks and beyond will all be about their leader for he is the only person capable winning a game or sending a team on a steak all by himself.  With the race as tight as it is the time for rest is over and the time for excellence is here.  For the next 18 games the entire team, franchise, city and fan base will look to their King to put the team on his back and carry them as far as he can.  In that cause they will all follow, but the key is for him to lead.