In their illustrious 85 seasons in the NHL, the Rangers have only retired 9 numbers, two of them being goaltenders.
Eddie Giacomin's road to the NHL was the most difficult. In the days of the Original Six, goaltending jobs were difficult to come by. Giacomin spent several years in the minors waiting for his opportunity be noticed. In 1965, the New York Rangers finally took notice and traded three players, including their starting goaltender, for Giacomin.
Giacomin was the classic stand-up goaltender of that era. Giacomin showed immediate promise with the Rangers, but began to struggle and eventually lost the goaltending job. With determination, Giacomin improved his play and won the Vezina Trophy the following year, leading the league in shutouts. Giacomin would remain the Rangers' goaltender for the next nine seasons, leading the league in games played and shutouts several times.
Giacomin was best described as tough player. In a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Hall of Famer Bobby Hull skated over the back of Giacomin's hand. Eddie refused to leave the game and the Rangers went on to win. In an interview with Bobby Hull following the game, Hull praised Giacomin's courage. Ultimately, injuries, age, and salary would lead to the waiving of Giacomin as he was replaced by John Davidson.
Eddie Giacomin was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in 1987, and on March 15, 1989 joined Ron Gilbert as the second New York Ranger to have his number retired.
In the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers found their next great goaltender with the 26th overall pick in Michael Richter. Richter spent some time as a backup goaltender before the Rangers would turn the reigns over to him. The Rangers gambled on Richter by trading John Vanbiesbrouck before the start of the 1993-1994 season. That gamble paid off as Richter lead the team to the President's Trophy and posting a team record of 42 wins.
The 1993-1994 playoffs solidified Mike Richter a spot in the hearts of all Rangers fans. Richter managed to shutout cross city rivals, the New York Islanders, in the first two games of their series.
Richter's toughest test would come at the hands of Martin Brodeur and New Jersey Devils. That Eastern Conference Finals series went the distance of seven games and included several double overtimes. Mike Richter got the win after double overtime of game seven, pushing the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Finals. Richter wasn't done, saving his most memorable moment for Pavel Bure, stopping him on his penalty shot in those Finals.
Mike Richter was viewed as an undersized goaltender. His athleticism and reflexes allowed him to remain a top goaltender in the league for years. If Mike Richter was out of position, which was a rarity, his flexibility and acrobatics would allow him make the save.
Like Giacomin, Richter's career was cut short due to injuries. A skull fracture and concussion forced Ritcher to hang them up for good. Ritcher holds Ranger club records for most career games (666), most career wins (301), single season starts (72) and single season wins (42).
On February 4, 2004, Richter joined Giacomin as his number 35 jersey was retired.
Henrik Lundqvist, drafted 205th overall in the 2000 draft, now finds himself the backbone of the New York Rangers. Like Giacomin and Richter, Lundqvist is a crowd favorite, having earned the nickname "King Henrik".
Lundqvist is an unorthodox butterfly style goaltender. Often criticized for staying deep in his net, Lundqvist possesses the reflexes and athleticism, much like Richter, to make that key save. Lundqvist also shares the same strong positioning and ability to stay square to the shooter that Richter displayed. One thing Lundqvist does not share with Richter is his NHL postseason success.
Lundqvist has started his NHL career by becoming the only goaltender in NHL history to post six consecutive 30+ win seasons. His efforts has made him a three time Vezina finalist. Like Giacomin, Lundqvist has twice been the league leader in shutouts. Statistically, Lundqvist finds himself among the league leaders in every major goaltending category.
Henrik Lundqvist's career hasn't been plagued with injuries like the two other Hall of Fame goaltenders experienced. Lundqvist has played a total of 406 regular season games and finds himself inching his way to the club record. He is a mere 88 wins away from tying Mike Richter for most career wins as a Ranger. To put that into perspective, Lundqvist just needs to play three more season the way he has played his first six.
Although it is still early in King Henrik's career to crown him the best Rangers goaltender ever, but his résumé is rather impressive. Just being mentioned with the likes of Giacomin and Richter should be inspiring, although Lundqvist shows no signs of slowing down. Lundqvist could very well have his last moment on the Madison Square Garden ice watching his number 30 join Richter and Giacomin.