By BRETT CYRGALIS
On the anniversary of Elvis’ birthday, The King went back to work.
Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ reigning Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s best goaltender, was back in net with a large contingent of 16 teammates shooting on him yesterday at the MSG Training Facility in Westchester.
With the start of the NHL season seemingly right around the corner, the goalie with the regal nickname was as excited as he has been in some time.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, to get out there and start getting ready,” Lundqvist said after the players-organized skate. “The feelings and the emotions you have, all your strength to come back now — I get a little anxious, nervous, excited, so it’s definitely a good feeling.”
As a matter of fact, Lundqvist was so amped up about the agreement in principle between the league and the Players’ Association that came together early Sunday morning, he wasted little time reaching out to teammates to organize workouts.
With union head Don Fehr and commissioner Gary Bettman meeting the media around 5 a.m. Sunday, Lundqvist sent a group text message at 6:49 a.m. to about 10 players who were in the New York area, telling them to get to the rink so they can work out.
Only Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger showed up to shoot on Lundqvist, but his legendary intensity has not subsided during the four-month hiatus.
“He’s really hungry,” Del Zotto said. “You could tell coming in.”
The taste left in Lundqvist’s mouth from last season’s loss to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals is not bitter, but inspiring. In his seven years in the league, the 30-year-old Lundqvist never had made it past the conference semifinals, and after being as close as he was to the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup just this past May, the competitive flame has only been stoked.
“In the locker room, guys in here, we always expect good performance,” Lundqvist said. “At the same time, we need to stay humble, and I think it’s going to be important how we handle that pressure, the pressure we put on ourselves and the pressure from the outside.”
With the shortened, 48-game schedule, expected to start on Jan. 19, Lundqvist said he will sit with goaltending coach Beniot Allaire and head coach John Tortorella to figure out a reasonable schedule of how many games he will play. After cutting back his workload a little last season, he was fresher down the stretch and into the postseason.
“Sometimes when you struggle or you try to come back from a long break, you try too hard to reach your level instead of just doing your basic stuff like you always do,” Lundqvist said. “It will come, but we don’t have too much time.”