Henrik Lundqvist Stance Glove UP

Rangers Star Henrik Lundqvist won his first Vezina Trophy. (Scott Slingsby Photo)

It was fitting that Henrik Lundqvist saved the best for last after accepting his first Vezina Trophy at the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, ending his acceptance speech by thanking Rangers goalie coach Benoit Allaire (video below).

“The best goalie coach in the world,” Lundqvist said, chuckling after interrupting his own speech with a flustered F-bomb.

For Lundqvist, the closing thank you was more than just lip service.

Starting with the quick but dramatic transition from Sweden to the NHL seven seasons ago, the Rangers goaltending guru has played a big role in Lundqvist’s rise to the top of the NHL goaltending heap. The evolution started with Lundqvist going from an aggressive, outside-in goalie in his native Sweden to one of the deepest positioned stoppers in the NHL, a goal line-out approach that emphasizes his ability to react to shots.

That was enough to earn Lundqvist three quick Vezina Trophy nominations, but the work didn’t end there. Under Allaire, they continued to tweak his game right through to this season, helping the breakthrough from finalist to Vezina Trophy winner with changed that included a taller, narrower initial stance, and coming out early and retreating on breakaway attempts.

Lundqvist talked about those changes and more keys to his game – like the high glove position and some important and unique tweaks to his equipment – in the February edition of the InGoal Digital Magazine.

“If I look at myself now and six years ago, it’s a big difference in my stance,” Lundqvist told InGoal. “I am way more upright. I was low all the time and now I feel like my timing is better and it’s easier for me to be patient when I am upright. When you are really low you tend to go down on every shot, no matter whether it’s high or low. But when my stance is a little higher I feel like my patience is a little better.”

Lundqvist, who is expecting to become a dad for the first time in the next couple weeks, also tipped his hat to the greats that came before him – names like Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and long-time New Jersey rival Martin Brodeur – in his speech. And in his media availability after winning, Lundqvist also acknowledged fellow finalist and Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick, pointing out the differences in their style as evidence there is more than one was to play the position.

“I told him yesterday when I ran into him, it was just such an impressive year, the run they had as a team, but for him also in the Playoffs, it was very impressive to see, very consistent,” Lundqvist said of Quick. “And we played opposites almost. He’s so aggressive and comes out a lot. I stay almost on the goal line. But it shows you can play different styles, you just need to be consistent in the way you approach the game and how you play it.”

If there’s a similarity between the two, it’s that they both react into shots, rather than dropping then reacting, something InGoal takes a closer look at in the upcoming June issue of the Digital Magazine.

As for this year’s Vezina voting, which is done by the General Managers, InGoal already cast its unofficial ballot for Quick because while their statistics were nearly identical (see chart below) Quick dealt with an almost absurd lack of run support from the League’s second-lowest scoring team in the regular season. At the same time, InGoal correctly predicted Lundqvist would win because the GMs tend to look at the entire career, and Lundqvist established himself as a multiple-time finalist.

It was surprising, though, to see how lopsided the win was for Lundqvist, who received 17 of 30 first-place votes and was on every ballot. Quick only received six first-place votes, while Pekka Rinne, who many thought should have been left off the ballot in favour of Phoenix standout Mike Smith, got four first-place votes. Below are the totals (points; 1st-2nd-3rd votes):

1. Henrik Lundqvist, NYR: 120 points (17-11-2)
2. Jonathan Quick, L.A.: 63 points (6-9-6)
3. Pekka Rinne, NSH: 42 points (4-4-10)
4. Mike Smith, PHX: 35 points (2-5-10)
5. Brian Elliott, STL: 5 points (1-0-0)
6. Jaroslav Halak, STL: 3 points (0-1-0)
T7. Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT: 1 point (0-0-1)
T7. Miikka Kiprusoff, CGY: 1 point (0-0-1)

Given the surprising discrepancy between Lundqvist and Quick, it’s interesting to note, especially given some GMs accusations of bias against the media that vote on other awards, that the Vezina Trophy has gone to an Eastern Conference goaltender six times in seven seasons since the lockout (Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff in 2006 is the lone exception), and 17 of the last 18 seasons overall dating back to Ed Belfour’s win in Chicago in 1993.

As promised, here’s the video from Lundqvist’s acceptance speech:

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