Rangers eye backup for Lundqvist

Last year, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist played in 73 games. (Reuters file photo)

Last year, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist played in 73 games. (Reuters file photo)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:43 PM ET

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- It's the mantra in certain training camps at this time of year.

It's being heard here in the lush, rolling hills north of Manhattan where the New York Rangers had their first on-ice sessions Sunday.

This is the year goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is going to play fewer regular-season games to be fresher for the playoffs.

It's the same talk you hear in most markets where they have a workhorse goaltender.

In Newark, they are talking about Martin Brodeur playing between 60 and 65 games.

Maybe this will be the season it actually happens.

In both markets, the teams went out and signed bonafide backups, the Devils signing Johan Hedberg and the Rangers bringing in Martin Biron.

The Rangers went through four backups last season (Steve Valiquette, Chad Johnson, Alex Auld and Matt Zaba), none of them earning the trust of coach John Tortorella. The result was Lundqvist played in 73 games, a single-season high for him.

"That's ridiculous," said Tortorella. "It's just too much, especially with the way Hank prepares and gets ready for each start. I've told him since I've been here he plays too much."

Not to put too much emphasis on it, but it's always interesting to look at trends and see what works for the most successful teams. Of the final four teams last spring, the goaltender that brought them to the conference final wasn't even clearly established as the No. 1 for the first part of the season, never mind being a guy who would play 65-plus games.

In Montreal, Jaroslav Halak was battling with Carey Price for the starting job with the Canadiens and only played in 45 games.

In Chicago, Antti Niemi only wrestled the position away from Cristobal Huet late in the season and played in 39 games.

In Philadelphia, Michael Leighton didn't arrive on the scene until he was picked up off waivers in December when Ray Emery went down with a hip injury. Leighton played just 27 regular-season games for the Flyers.

The only workhorse-type goaltender who made it to the final four was San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov, who played 71 games for the Sharks.

Now, would you want to wait and see if some unproven guy came out of nowhere to lead your team? Or would you prefer to have an established star?

Of course you would bet on the established star, regardless of what happened in last spring's playoffs.

So maybe the best way to go is to give your established star the best chance of playing his best hockey when it counts the most.

Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire has broken the numbers down. He's made the point that among the last six Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders, none played more than 62 regular-season games (that was Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury in 2009. The other winners: Tampa's Nikolai Khabibulin, 55 regular season games in 2004; Carolina's Cam Ward, 28 in '06; Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 56 in '07; and Detroit's Chris Osgood, 43 in 2008).

So a number around 60 seems to be what works if you're going to go with the trend.

"I like him playing 61 or 62, but you can't map it out," said Tortorella. "You can have a foundation and a plan, but you never know what's going to happen. I was adamant last year (Lundqvist) would not play as many games and it all fell apart."

Tortorella said one of the reasons his Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup was the contribution of backup John Grahame, who won 18 games that year.

"The reason we won was we had two Game 7's and they were in our building because we won the conference and John Grahame had a lot to do with that," said Tortorella. "It's not just having the backup play. It's having the backup winning."


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