TORONTO — This is the ultimate rite of passage for Henrik Lundqvist, the King who officially ascended into Hockey Royalty upon his induction into the Hall of Fame here on Monday night.
There will be a lifetime of memories flooding the 41-year-old Swede, born and raised in the small Scandinavian sea resort of Are who would grow up to become the favorite son of New York City.
This is the final of a series of milestones for Lundqvist over the last 38 months, not all of them warm and fuzzy. There was the buyout from the Rangers. There was the decision to sign with Washington. There was discovery of the heart condition that required surgery and forced him to step away from the game.
There then came the enforced decision to retire followed by the Rangers retiring his No. 30. There was the making of the “Open Heart” documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. There was election to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Finally, Monday night.
Reflections, there have been more than a few.
“There is a lot to appreciate,” The Man of the Hour said on Sunday after a triumphant return to the ice in the HHOF Legends Classic. “I want to make sure that I thank the people who supported me and helped get me here.”
Is this the time where I tell you that Lundqvist has the worst recall of any professional athlete I have ever covered?
“I wrote my [Hall of Fame] speech on a flight home from Atlanta,” he said. “There were a lot of emotions.”
The flight from Atlanta followed one of Lundqvist’s appearances on the TNT panel with whom he shares a desk with, at various times, Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, Liam McHugh and Wayne Gretzky.
It takes a Great One to know a great one.
“I’ve had so much fun getting to know him by working with him,” Gretzky told The Post by phone at the end of last week. “He’s the best, I mean that, the way he carries himself, the way he relates and interacts with people, his knowledge of the game.
“He is a New York Ranger through and through. He never has a bad word to say about anything. He sees the good in people. He sees the good in situations. That’s who he is.
“He’s also one of the boys. He gets teased about his hair and he laughs,” said No. 99. “I can’t say enough about him. He deserves every accolade he gets.”
Lundqvist is the masked man who was the face of the Rangers franchise for 15 years. He was the engine that drove the Garden’s corporate and marketing machine. He carried the team for a decade-and-a-half, needing on many — if not, most — nights to be the best player on the ice in order to give his team a chance to win.
No one other than Martin Brodeur won more games for one NHL team than Lundqvist did while racking up 459 victories — sixth in league history — for the Blueshirts. Brodeur won 688 in New Jersey. Lundqvist is the winningest European-born and trained goaltender in NHL history, exceeding Dominik Hasek’s total by 70.
He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy five times and won it once in 2012. He won the gold medal for Team Sweden in the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, a club that now boasts seven members of the HHOF, Lundqvist joining Nicklas Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Henrik Zetterberg might be next.
The numbers tend to fade into the background. Not, however, No. 30. Lundqvist and the Blueshirts went an impossible 15-4 in elimination games from 2012 through 2015 while the netminder recorded a 1.74 goals against average and .953 save percentage in those contests. He was 6-2 in Games 7 with a .961 save percentage and 1.11 GAA.
The Cup should have been overflowing, not empty.
Lundqvist should have been celebrating, not imitating a chalk outline of a crime scene on the LA ice after Alec Martinez’s double-overtime Game 5 clincher for the Kings and Jonathan Quick in 2014.
He should have been drenched in champagne maybe with a stogie in his mouth, not slumped in his locker, frozen in his equipment, stunned into tear-stained silence for up to 30 minutes that June night in the most sorrowful and pain-wracked Cup-losing locker room I’ve ever entered.
The perfect life has had imperfections. The perfect career has had them, too.
“You know what?” Gretzky said. “It’s hard to play in New York. It’s hard to be a goalie in New York. It’s hard to excel in New York.
“To do that, you have to have cajónes. He had them.”
This is about Lundqvist, but for just this short interlude, it is also about the King and I. Bestowing his nickname on Lundqvist (and three games into his NHL career, no less) is the coolest thing I have ever done in my career. There was something about the way he moved. We talked almost every day for nine months a year for 15 years. The pleasure hopefully was not all mine.
Lundqvist has become an ambassador for the Rangers and an ambassador for New York City. His repaired heart has all kinds of room for those less fortunate and in need. He is as special a person as he was a special goalie.
For time immemorial, he is a member of Hockey Royalty.
The King is in the house.