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Rangers' Lundqvist already eager for next season

by Dan Rosen

For the first time in a while, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist's expectations don't match those of his fans.

The most faithful Blueshirts followers will tell you that Lundqvist, without question, should win the Vezina Trophy at the annual NHL Awards Show on Wednesday in Las Vegas. He's a finalist along with the Kings' Jonathan Quick and Nashville's Pekka Rinne.

Most of those same fans will also say he should win the Hart Trophy, despite the fact that just being a finalist for the League's MVP award along with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos caught the typically alert and aware Lundqvist totally off-guard.


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"No, I never really thought about that [being a finalist for the Hart]," said Lundqvist, who also joins Malkin and Stamkos as a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, which is given to the most outstanding player as judged by the players themselves. "That's just a big bonus. It's a pretty amazing feeling."

Not as amazing as it would be to win either the Vezina or the Hart. Lundqvist has yet to collect a piece of hardware in three previous trips to the annual NHL Awards show, but clearly his odds this year, with being a finalist for two trophies instead of one, are better than they ever have been.

However, Lundqvist isn't expecting to win anything Wednesday night. It's a totally different feeling from the one he gained while backstopping the Rangers this season.

After recording 109 points, earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference and getting within two victories of the Stanley Cup Final, the expectations around the Rangers are the highest they’ve been since Lundqvist arrived in New York in 2005.

Lundqvist knows it -- and he loves it.

"I just like the feeling to expect, to expect more out of everybody on the team," Lundqvist said. "When I got here some years ago I think a lot of people were hoping and were not really sure, but with this year, I hope we continue building, and that's to expect more out of everybody, to want to be a top team. To be that you have to push yourself hard, because it's not just going to happen.

"Everybody had a fun year, but we need to come back and try to be even better because we came up short."

Lundqvist got closer than he ever had before this spring. He was bounced out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2007 and 2008, but this year he took the Rangers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey before the Devils extinguished their cross-river rivals on an Adam Henrique overtime winner at Prudential Center a few weeks ago.

Regardless, Lundqvist still finished the playoffs with career-bests in wins (10), goals-against average (1.82) and save percentage (.931). His 39 wins, 1.97 GAA and .930 save percentage in the regular season were all career-bests as well.

"I can only speak for myself; it motivates me a lot to work on my game and come back, try to be even better," Lundqvist said of falling two wins shy of going to the Stanley Cup Final. "Just to get a taste of it, it's exciting, but at the same time we didn't reach the ultimate goal, we didn't get to where we want to be. But to get a taste of it, I think it's good for the future. We have a young group, a bunch of guys that hadn't been there before, it's exciting."

The whole season, all of it leading up to the Awards show Wednesday night, was exciting for Lundqvist.

In addition to getting married last summer, Lundqvist, who has a baby on the way this summer, started the 2011-12 season with the Rangers in Europe. He received a hero's welcome as he returned to Gothenburg, Sweden, and played a game against his old team from the Swedish Elite League, the Frolunda Indians -- who happen to be captained by Lundqvist's twin, Joel.

Lundqvist backstopped Frolunda to the Swedish Elite League championship in 2005.

Then he got to open the regular season in Stockholm, Sweden's capital city. A few months after returning Lundqvist became a main storyline on HBO's "24/7" series, which documented the Rangers' and Flyers' road to the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

"Everybody had a fun year, but we need to come back and try to be even better because we came up short." -- Henrik Lundqvist reflects on the Rangers season

Of course, Lundqvist won the Winter Classic game at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 2 with 34 saves, including a brilliant stop on Danny Briere's penalty shot that would have tied the game with 20 seconds left in the third period.

Once that was over and normalcy returned, Lundqvist kept up his end of the bargain and helped the Rangers finish the regular season with 109 points, the most in the Eastern Conference. They needed seven games each to beat the Senators and Capitals before New Jersey knocked out Lundqvist and the Rangers in six.

"This was a great year. There were so many things that happened that you learn from," Lundqvist said. "You start in Europe, had the Winter Classic, a lot of distractions -- good distractions with HBO -- and it was fun. I definitely see this as a really special year. I just hoped it would continue for a couple more weeks, but we'll try again next year."

The expectation around the Rangers is they will succeed because of this past season.

Lundqvist saw a young defense corps, led by a top four of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto, develop right in front of him. Ryan Callahan got comfortable in his role of captain while newcomer Brad Richards got comfortable in New York. Marian Gaborik played in every game and scored 41 goals. Chris Kreider, the 20-year-old sensation out of Boston College, joined the team during the playoffs and played like a veteran.

And that's only the beginning. Lundqvist said he can tell the culture in New York has changed from hoping good things will happen to expecting them to happen.

"That's a good thing when people expect more out of you," Lundqvist said. "It's a good thing when you can look around the room and expect good things out of everybody. This is definitely the right step and a good direction for us as a club. As a player, just me personally, I think it's been a great year and thing to be a part of.

"I'm just hoping that one day I'm going to lift that Cup. That's my goal. That's my dream."

That's his expectation.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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