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Hartnett: 'Man Of The People' Lundqvist Finally Gets His Vezina

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Henrik Lundqvist's megawatt smile is so bright, it could probably light up the Empire State building for a few days.  When he strides through the streets of New York, women swoon over his perfectly kept hair, semi-rugged beard and fashionable suits.

It would be easy to label Lundqvist as a 'pretty boy' if you were unaware of his occupation and how hard he's worked to finally capture his first career Vezina Trophy.

For more than 60 games a season, Lundqvist stands bravely between the pipes and demonstrates an unusually aggressive style.  He bears the brunt of blocking pucks with unprotected areas, purposely uses his helmet to stop 95 MPH slap-shots and is hacked away by opposing skaters in the crease.

He gladly pays the physical toll required to keep pucks out of his net.

On top of that, Lundqvist is one of the fiercest competitors in the game.  John Tortorella had to beg him to lighten his workload this season.  If it were up to Lundqvist, he would willingly play all 82 regular season games without any complaint.

A common mistake by casual hockey fans is the thought that Lundqvist and other great goalies around the league are blessed with some kind of superhuman ability to stop pucks.

Lundqvist works meticulously with Rangers' goaltending coach Benoit Allaire to keep himself in top form.  Given Lundqvist's achievements over the past few seasons, it's easy to forget that he was once a little-known 7th round draft pick in the 2000 NHL Draft.

After finally getting his hands on Vezina, Henrik made sure to thank the entire Rangers' organization for their support, particularly Allaire who he called "the best goalie coach in the world."

"I want to thank a few people. My teammates, of course. I wouldn't be standing up here without them. Great support. The entire Rangers' organization. Mr. Dolan, not only for this past year but for seven years. It's been a pleasure to be part of the Rangers' family," Lundqvist said Wednesday in Las Vegas.

When a rookie Lundqvist came into camp for the 2005-06 season, he had to battle his way onto the Rangers' roster and force himself past Kevin Weekes.  At the time, Weekes was brought in to be the unquestioned number one goalie but an injury forced Lundqvist into the spotlight.

Ever since, Lundqvist has refused to lose sight of the hard work needed to propel himself toward an elite level.  This season, his value to the Rangers was clearer than ever as they were consistently at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Throughout games, you could see the intensity in his eyes in late game situations when Lundqvist had to nearly stand on his head to come away with victories in low-scoring games.

When he's on the ice, his cool, suave off-ice demeanor transforms into a mean-spirited fierce competitor as he protects his net like an angry guard dog.  Even in practice, he's always barking at teammates who stand in his goal crease.

Off the ice, he's as approachable as they come.  It's almost as if he turns the intensity switch off when he comes off the ice.

Don't let the Swedish Head & Shoulders advertisements, Dior suits and best dressed lists fool you.  Lundqvist doesn't think of himself as above the common fan.  He'll gladly sign autographs for fans outside Madison Square Garden because he deeply appreciates the support he receives from the 'Blueshirt Faithful.'

This is a guy who without fanfare or publicity will spend some of his nights visiting seriously ill children and will stay with these kids for hours playing video games to brighten their day.

Henrik is truly a man of the people.  He's a lot more human than most metro area athletes which was evidenced by how nervous he was at the podium last night at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.  Yes, 'King Henrik' let an expletive slip just like you or me when we're forced to go up and speak in front of our peers.

We saw the tears in his eyes as the Rangers were eliminated by the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.   He understands the importance of representing New Yorkers and the need for the Rangers to lift their first Stanley Cup since 1994.

Lundqvist also understands his place in the game and those who came before him.

"I can't believe this," Lundqvist said last night. "It's definitely a dream come true to stand up here. It feels amazing to be on the same list as Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur. It means a lot to me."

Now, with a Vezina Trophy under his belt, this can only further spark Lundqvist's motivation toward bringing the Rangers to the promised land of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Seeing him win the Vezina was definitely a feel-good moment for a deserving good-guy.  Should he finally get his hands on the Stanley Cup, it will bring tears of joy to the eyes of many Rangers fans and Lundqvist admirers worldwide.

Was Henrik's first Vezina Trophy overdue?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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