Henrik Lundqvist, impeccably dressed as ever, strode to the podium on the Madison Square Garden ice. He gazed up at a crowd that was reveling in a last chance to chant his name just as they always did, and he paused before blurting, "I miss you guys."
But the face of the franchise from 2005-20 will never be absent from the Garden again.
A beaming Lundqvist watched as his No. 30 was raised to pinwheeled rafters on Friday night as the 11th Ranger to have his jersey retired.
"This place both scared me and inspired me at the same time," Lundqvist said during a touching yet humorous 13-minute speech, recalling the first time he saw the Garden in 2001. "The competitor in me absolutely loved it."
The future Hall of Fame goalie — former teammate Kevin Weekes punctuated his introductory speech with that declaration — mostly kept his composure during the hourlong ceremony.
But Lundqvist was uncharacteristically overcome by tears during a pre-ceremony media briefing when he tried to express how he could not wait for the opportunity to thank his family, his friends, his ex-teammates and the Rangers’ organization.
"I said, ‘If I cry, I cry,’ " Lundqvist said before the ceremony. "I just want to walk out here tonight and be in the moment and feel as much as I can feel. It was the best 15 years of my life being part of this organization. This means everything to me."
Lundqvist, who continues to live in Manhattan, is the winningest European-born goalie in NHL history with 459 victories — also the most for a Rangers goalie — and he earned the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best netminder in 2012. The five-time All-Star led the Rangers to 12 playoff appearances, including a five-game loss to the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. His 887 appearances were the most by any Rangers goalie, as were his 130 playoff appearances.
Among the gifts he received was a display with a puck from every one of his 64 regular-season shutouts and 10 postseason shutouts. Tennis great and one-time bandmate John McEnroe presented Lundqvist a guitar painted to honor the masks he wore, painted by Lundqvist’s mask artist, David Gunnarsson.
He also received a Louis Vuitton trunk emblazoned with No. 30.
Brian Leetch (No. 2), Adam Graves (No. 9), Mark Messier (No. 11) and fellow goalie Mike Richter (No. 35) sat behind Lundqvist during the ceremony. Goalie Ed Giacomin (No. 1), Vic Hadfield (No. 11) and Jean Ratelle (No. 19) were unable to attend and the late Harry Howell (No. 3), Rod Gilbert (No. 7) and Andy Bathgate (No. 9) were acknowledged.
"I get asked a lot, ‘What is a Ranger? What does that mean?’ " Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury said. "Knowing Hank and playing with Hank, he’s given me the easiest answer. We want to be like Hank."
For all of Lundqvist’s style and popularity, he also was innovative.
Weekes, now an analyst for NHL Network and ESPN/ABC, saw that right away. He called Lundqvist’s technique of goaltending "1.5 or 2.0."
"Right off the bat, I’m like, ‘Holy smokes, this is so different,’ " Weekes told Newsday this week. "This guy is unreal.
"The biggest thing is he just had a very different stance, especially when he first came in. A really wide stance. His pads overlapped with one another and it was just a very different look to shooters. Those things really mess with shooters. [Also], his lateral mobility. He never seemed like he lifted his leg to push."
Lundqvist is joining a tight-knit group of Rangers who have had their numbers retired, all bound by their shared honor.
"It’s such a unique and humbling honor, yeah, you do share that with each other," Richter said. "You see how people react when they’re told and you can’t understand what it means when you’re told that initially. And then, over the years, it feels even more meaningful. It’s about as good an honor as you can possibly get. I would say there is a bit of a brotherhood there. This thing is kind of indescribably important as a player."
"Certainly bringing the generations together," Graves said. "One of my dearest friends was Rod. Though I never played with Rod, he was part of my family."