Henrik Lunqvist went under the knife for five hours on January 10 and had open-heart surgery. The future Hall of Fame goaltender received an aortic valve replacement, aortic root, and ascending aortic replacement at a Cleveland hospital. Incredibly, 36 days after surgery, Lundqvist ran for the first time and 11 days after that he returned to the rink and threw on his goalie gear, seemingly looking none the worse for wear.
It appears that Lundqvist is trying to make a comeback to the NHL — to write the final chapter of his professional hockey career on his own terms — and will know more from doctors in April. Lundqvist’s Instagram bio reads, almost defiantly in the circumstances, “Hockey has been my life since I was 7 years old and still is.”
On Friday, Brian MacLellan was asked about Lundqvist and the Capitals’ general manager was blown away by the legend’s inspiring videos. The Capitals originally signed longtime Rangers’ goalie to backup Ilya Samsonov this season.
“I think it’s impressive what he’s doing,” MacLellan said. “I see the video like you guys see the video. I don’t know how likely or unlikely it is — I mean he had valve replacement surgery — it’d be pretty incredible if he came back. We’ll see where he is at the end here. It’s probably unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out with him.”
MacLellan added that the team’s training staff “has been in contact with him just because of how the whole situation came about health-wise. There’s a relationship there and we’ve continued to monitor him with our doctors on how he’s doing.”
With Lundqvist out and Samsonov contracting the coronavirus, the Capitals turned to Vitek Vanecek, who spent five seasons toiling in the minor leagues without an opportunity. The rookie has won 11 of his 20 starts and has posted a 2.88 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. Vanecek was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in January.
“Vitek’s done a great job for us here,” MacLellan said. “I think he’s really seized the opportunity he’s been given. Nothing we would have predicted coming into the year and he’s been solid. I think he’s improving. I think he’s been given a lot of responsibility and handled it. I think it’s impressive what he’s done for where he’s at. From going from not getting the opportunity he deserved to taking advantage of a situation and running with it, I think it’s been impressive.”
Meanwhile, MacLellan said of Samsonov that he’s “had a couple good games here. I think it’s been a struggle a little bit for him to find his footing and get up to speed and get into game conditioning and get some games under his belt. Last few games, I think he’s been solid. So we’ll see where he goes from here too. I would only anticipate that he’s going to get improve, get better, and get more comfortable.”
The NHL Trade Deadline this year is on April 11. MacLellan revealed that he’s very happy with the team’s defense corps — a position that annually makes him feel nervous — and likes how deep the team is at forward. But at the goaltender position, he’d still like to see more before deciding against a deal.
“I think we need a bigger sample size on Samsonov to see where he’s at,” MacLellan said. “How much of the load can he carry? I think we got a good sense of where Vitek’s at. I would think Vitek’s going to continue to get better too. We’ll monitor here over the next month and see where we’re at.”
He added, “They’re both on track to play pretty well.”
Perhaps with a certain Swedish veteran too.
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