If the Rangers’ rebuild continues apace and they contend for a Stanley Cup in the next few seasons, their swift exit from the 2020 qualifying round will be viewed as a minor mile marker in the process.
But future trivia-quiz writers also will recall a historic footnote to the final game of the three-game sweep by the Hurricanes:
There was Henrik Lundqvist in Toronto on Tuesday night, all dressed up in his backup goaltender gear but with nowhere to go. His hair was in place, as always, and his successor, Igor Shesterkin, was in his place in goal.
Lundqvist, 38, had filled in for Shesterkin, 24, for the first two games of the series, extending his streak of playoff starts for the Rangers to 129, but the new guy took over for Carolina’s 4-1 clincher — and presumably beyond.
Lundqvist has one year left on his contract, at a salary cap cost of $8.5 million. With the cap set to be flat the next two years, bringing him back rather than buying him out makes no sense in financial or hockey terms.
His presence has been a tad awkward for two years, since the Rangers announced a rebuild, and now he has not one but two 24-year-olds at his position. Alexandar Georgiev is the other, and a restricted free agent to be.
So let’s assume for the sake of pragmatism that his time with the Blueshirts is over. What to make of it?
This: He was a pro’s pro on and off the ice for 15 seasons, the face of a franchise that did a lot of winning in his time, and a lock to be in the Hall of Fame and have his number hang from the Madison Square Garden ceiling.
But there forever will be something missing. Lundqvist comfortably is in the top 10 and probably in the top five and arguably No. 1 among greatest New York-area athletes never to win a championship.
The Knicks’ Patrick Ewing tops most such lists, but there are other candidates. Don Mattingly. David Wright and Mike Piazza. Joe Klecko and Curtis Martin. Tiki Barber. Bernard King. The Rangers’ own Rod Gilbert.
But it says here that King Henrik is No. 2 on the list, behind only Ewing, given his achievements, his longevity and what he meant to a franchise that was reeling when he arrived in 2005-06, having not made the playoffs since 1996-97.
Lundqvist got the Rangers as far as the Stanley Cup Final in 2013-14, where they lost a closer-than-it-sounds five-game series in which the Kings won three games in overtime, two of them double OTs.
The next year, the Rangers hosted Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, lost to the Lightning, 2-0, and that was that.
Ewing, who turned 58 on Wednesday, blazed a trail that closely parallels Lundqvist’s.
He joined the Knicks in 1985, 20 years before Lundqvist joined the Rangers, came closest to a championship in 1994, 20 years before Lundqvist’s deepest title run, and left in 2000, 20 years before Lundqvist’s likely departure.
Ewing played two more seasons, in Seattle and Orlando, before retiring, but it is not clear whether Lundqvist is interested in carrying on if he leaves New York.
It does not matter in the bigger picture. No matter where he goes from here in hockey and in life, the dapper Swede always will be a Ranger.
Chris Kreider, his teammate for the past eight seasons, did a nice job summing things up after Tuesday’s loss:
“Consummate professional, unbelievable human being, unbelievable competitor. The kind of guy you want to be in the trenches with, wants to win more than anyone I’ve ever met.
“I mean, it’s been an absolute honor and a pleasure to get to know him as a person and as a teammate, to get to play with him for as long as I have and to see how he goes about his business on a daily basis.
“I have the utmost respect for Hank as a person and as a player. He battled. He battled his [butt] off like he always does, and he deserved better from us.”