Henrik Lundqvist is 35, which has led many to presume he might not have many playoff runs left in him.
But one of his former backups, Steve Valiquette, believes he has a number of good years remaining — and refuses to believe he will retire without his name on the Stanley Cup.
“I always have to footnote myself in saying I’m going to be biased because I’ve seen it up close and personal and I know the person,” Valiquette said before Tuesday night’s Game 4 of the Rangers’ first-round playoff series against the Canadiens. “So I believe in him and I always believe that something great will come of all of his body of work.
“I don’t believe that he can’t win a Stanley Cup. I just don’t. It’s hard for me because I’m a goalie person where I appreciate the work the goalie does and their impact on the game. I can’t see him not winning a Stanley Cup. I have a hard time dealing with that.”
Valiquette is concluding his third season as an analyst for MSG, which is showing at least Games 1-5 and Game 7 if it is necessary. (Game 6, if necessary, could be an NBC exclusive, pending how other series unfold.)
But for parts of four seasons from 2006-10, he was a backup for the Rangers as Lundqvist was beginning his NHL career. Based on what he saw then, Valiquette is not surprised in the least that Lundqvist still is at it in 2017.
“It’s because of his approach,” Valiquette said. “To that point I thought I was a hard worker, and my reputation and the reason I had a chance to play in the NHL was based on my work ethic. It wasn’t my skill level. It was: He’s going to be a great backup. He’ll be really good in the [locker] room with everybody, and he’s going to stay on late for shots and will go out early and do whatever it takes.
“My view on Henrik was he was working on a level much greater than mine. It wasn’t just that he was just blessed with talent. Henrik has worked for it. His approach was more professional than anyone I’d seen to that point and since. I expect him to continue to play because of the way that he approaches the game.
“It’s more intense than anybody. He has a different relationship with practice.”
Valiquette noted that a number of elite goalies have played into relative old age by adapting to diminishing physical skills through experience.
“The great goalies that have been able to play long like a Patrick Roy or an Ed Belfour or a [Martin] Brodeur, they were all very unique. Roberto Luongo [of the Panthers] is showing us right now he can still play at high level. They have been elite impact players for 10-plus years. Their game just doesn’t fall off a cliff. They still have the ability because they find ways.
“I worked on the ice with Roberto Luongo two summers ago. I noticed he couldn’t move as well laterally, but he never would get beat on an open shot. So he can still be very elite in certain areas that override anything that may change physically.”
Valiquette said goalies find ways to compensate if they are good enough, and smart enough.
“I learned in my mid-30s where you could take your eyes off the puck when it’s on the perimeter and look at the face of the playmaker and see where he was looking for his next move,” he said. “There are a lot of ways you can use that experience because you’re a calmer player when you’re older. You’re not bearing down, intense, with tunnel vision like we did when we were younger.”