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Lundqvist reports to Rangers camp with world of confidence

Winning gold medal for Sweden at IIHF championship has goalie feeling good about NHL season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- For the first time in his NHL career, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist entered training camp after having won the last official game he played. That it wasn't in a Rangers sweater is part of Lundqvist's bigger picture, but it doesn't change how he feels.

Lundqvist helped Sweden win the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Championship on May 21. It was 12 days after his 12th NHL season came to an all-too-familiar early end with a loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Ottawa Senators.

Had Lundqvist not gone to the World Championship, had he not won the gold medal with his twin brother, Joel, on the team, who knows how he would have felt throughout the summer as he geared up to start the journey in the NHL all over again. 

He could have carried the disappointment of another Stanley Cup Playoff failure with him. He could have wondered about his game, his confidence. It could have been debilitating.

But he did go. He did win. He did do something great, something he'll never forget.

"It made a pretty big impact in how I felt this summer," Lundqvist said Friday. "Not only because I ended on a high note, but because I did it with my brother. 

"It was a dream come true."

Lundqvist thinks winning for Sweden can have a significant impact on how he starts this season with the Rangers, on what he hopes is the beginning of a journey to another dream coming true.

Just as it did for Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby more than two years ago, winning at the Worlds gave Lundqvist his winning feeling back and with it came a surge of confidence he needed after what was arguably his worst season in the NHL. 

Crosby has won everything he possibly can win since he helped Canada win gold at the Worlds in 2015, including the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in the past two years. Lundqvist's goals are more modest -- he'll take one Stanley Cup championship, this season.

"I think going into this year, ending on that high note [at the Worlds], that's definitely something I bring with me to start this year, feeling good about what I did," Lundqvist said. "I use it as energy and motivation and a boost of confidence."

Notice, though, that he'll only talk about the start of the season. That's on purpose.

Look, Lundqvist understands that today he's known as the best goalie in Rangers history and the potential future Hall of Famer who has never won the Stanley Cup. He wants nothing more in this game than to edit that last part so people can call him a Stanley Cup champion.

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But he also knows talking about his dream in September would mean he's taking the focus off what matters now, such as the early steps he needs to master to get himself ready to play in October.

Forget about April, May or June. Lundqvist needs to be good in October to recapture some of the swagger he lost last season, when he finished with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, both single-season career worsts for the 35-year-old.

"To be consistent you have to just focus on here and now," Lundqvist said. "That's how you stay consistent. If you start looking too far ahead and don't stay in the moment it's easy to get off track. There was a lot of good moments last year. There were also stretches where I had to be better. I'm just going to focus on the start, camp."

Lundqvist's inconsistencies last season and a plan of attack so he can be better this season have already been addressed in conversations between him, goalie coach Benoit Allaire and coach Alain Vigneault. 

Unlike last season, when Vigneault said his preference was to keep Lundqvist's starts to the 55-58 game range, he won't put a cap how many games Lundqvist might play this season. It'll be day by day. If he feels good, he'll play. If he needs a rest, he won't. Simple.

"I think it's going to be a better move for our team," Vigneault said.

Lundqvist prefers it this way.

"It's hard to predict in November what's best for you come April," he said.

Forget November. Lundqvist said his job now is to ramp up his game to stay consistent with the increasing speed of the game throughout camp. It'll get faster as the days tick off the calendar to Oct. 5, opening night against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden. He must get faster, too.

"Even though you've been skating for a month and a half, it's hard to have that speed that is going to increase in the next couple of weeks," Lundqvist said. "You just have to adjust to that and get your timing right, not overthink anything, the amount of games, or look too far into the season. It's these next couple of weeks of training camp, that's the main focus."

And that approach is the exact same approach Lundqvist has had in every other training camp he's been a part of since becoming an NHL player. The difference this year is he returned to New York a winner, a world champion. 

Maybe that's the edge Lundqvist needs to become a Cup champion as well.

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