By Larry Brooks
The King is 28 now, no longer a prodigy. And for Henrik Lundqvist, who is set to become the first Rangers' goaltender to start five straight season-openers since Mike Richter's run of eight from 1992-1999, that truth is self-evident.
"After being here for five years, I have a greater understanding of the league, and what I've learned especially after missing the playoffs last year is that you can't take anything for granted because you never know how many opportunities you're going to get to win the Stanley Cup," Lundqvist, scheduled to be in net tomorrow night in Buffalo, told The Post earlier this week.
"You have to approach each season with the mentality that it's an opportunity to do something special. We really haven't accomplished that since I've been here. I haven't accomplished that. We've gone one round and two rounds a couple of times, but that isn't good enough.
"I want more."
Lundqvist, who as a rookie backed up Kevin Weekes for the 2005-06 opener before claiming the No. 1 job a couple of months into the season, is the Rangers' linchpin. He is the reason the Rangers will always compete for a playoff spot. He is the reason the Rangers have essentially no chance to ever bottom out and come away with a lottery pick (unless Brian Burke would like to trade them one or two).
Lundqvist has also become the team's de facto postgame spokesman, more given to public candor than captain Chris Drury. A year ago, management was less than thrilled when The King told The Post early in the season that he did not believe the Rangers were, "a top team," and instead would battle for a low playoff seed. Never mind that it was all true.
Now, perhaps more judicious or perhaps simply more optimistic about the crew that will skate in front of him, Lundqvist this week answered slightly different when asked for his thoughts.
"I don't know how the other teams look, but I want to believe that we can finish in the top half of the conference," he said. "It's going to be a tight race again, and it seems like it gets tighter every year from the top to the bottom, but I like this group here, I really do."
Lundqvist isn't delusional. The Rangers do seem to be more unified than they've been since 2006-07. Still, they have much work to do to return to the postseason.
"I want to be the player who is good every night and gives my team the best chance to win every night," said Lundqvist, who in a perfect world will get 66 or 67 starts this year as opposed to last year's 72. "That's the difference in this league, and that's the difference I want to make.
"Missing the playoffs was awful, but we can all learn from that. I don't ever want to experience that again. I want the opportunity to be playing in June."
Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/rangers/king_wants_crown_fgh45Y2OL1BqsNgquPBfnN
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