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Lundqvist presence a huge edge for Rangers

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
By Jim Cerny,

While much has changed in the New York Rangers’ universe within the past year, one very important part of the organization remains steadfastly in place.

Henrik Lundqvist is the team’s No. 1 goaltender, and the foundation upon which John Tortorella is building the 2009-10 Rangers.

Henrik Lundqvist, who joined Rangers in 2005, is entering his fifth season as the team's No. 1 goalie and is one of the annual keys to Blueshirts success.
“Henrik is a huge piece of the puzzle here, we all know that,” said Tortorella. “I don’t think you ever have to worry about challenging Hank. I think he is probably one of our hardest workers, and probably is a guy who prepares more than most athletes.”

Considering the fact that the team has 10 players on its current 22-man roster who have never worn a Rangers sweater during a regular-season game -- with Artem Anisimov having taken part in only one regular-season game and one post-season tilt as a Blueshirt -- it is a comfort to the organization knowing that Lundqvist is ensconced in his vital role.

“A lot of teams have goaltender issues, whether it be who’s starting or who’s backing up or just questions going into games, here we know he’s starting, and he’s going to play well,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said of Lundqvist. “You almost take him for granted -- in a good way -- as a constant back there.”

This season will mark the fifth straight year that Lundqvist is the Rangers’ No. 1 goaltender. During his rookie campaign in 2005-06, Lundqvist won a competition with veteran Kevin Weekes for the top spot, and he has done nothing to come close to relinquishing it since.

Lundqvist has earned 30 or more wins in each of his four NHL seasons, including a career-high 38 a year ago. He has also appeared in 70 or more games three consecutive seasons, and je has never had a goals against average higher than 2.43.

A Vezina Trophy finalist in each of his first three years in the league, Lundqvist earned his first berth in an NHL All-Star Game in 2009.

“We certainly know what he’s capable of, what he can bring and what he means to the team,” said veteran defenseman Wade Redden. “He’s a big part of our success. For sure he’s one of the best in the league, no question.”

Anyone who has followed the Rangers over the past four seasons has come to recognize Lundqvist for both his outstanding play in net and his engaging personality away from the ice.

“Everyone in this room knows how important he is to this team, and no one thinks twice about that,” said Staal.

Last season, the Rangers surrendered the sixth-fewest goals of any team in the National Hockey League. That enabled them to make the playoffs, even though they had scored the fifth-fewest goals in the league.

With proven scorers Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, and Christopher Higgins, among others, brought in to play Tortorella’s up-tempo puck-control game, the Rangers are looking to support Lundqvist better and light the lamp much more often this year.

“Hopefully we can keep the goals against at the same level, and just add one or two more goals for us a game,” said Lundqvist. “That means we should have a much better chance to win a lot of tight games.”

The Rangers have added a pair of rookie defensemen -- Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto -- to the roster this season. That fact, along with Tortorella’s desire to have his defensemen be much more involved up ice in the offensive zone, could lead to more odd-man scoring chances against Lundqvist this season.

His teammates and coaches, though, are confident that Lundqvist is more than capable of making the important saves to allow the club the freedom to attack aggressively at the other end of the ice.

“He definitely solidifies things for us,” said Redden. “There’s no concern for us because we know he’s going to be there making big saves for us. So there’s no real issue there.”

As for the goalie himself, Lundqvist is not concerned with what style the team plays in front of him. He is intensely focused on doing his job at the elite level he has maintained now for four years.

“In the end, I just have to focus on myself,” said Lundqvist. “I like playing with a lot of focus. And it’s easy to do when you are playing in tight games, or know you have to make the big saves.”

Lundqvist, who led Sweden to the gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics, is once again slated to be his nation’s No. 1 goalie in Vancouver come February. However, he is not looking that far ahead, and is instead concerned only with helping the Rangers get off to a strong start, beginning with Friday’s season-opener in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.

“I really won’t think about the Olympics until we get to February or so,” said Lundqvist. “For us as a team, this is a journey. We start in one spot and then develop as a team. It’s an exciting process, and I am really looking forward to getting it started.”
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