By Stephen Lorenzo
LOS ANGELES — Perhaps the most famous image in Rangers history is an elated Mark Messier gripping the Stanley Cup in 1994, minutes after his Blueshirts ended a 54-year championship drought.
After seeing that picture every day, Henrik Lundqvist is hell-bent on adding a frame of his own.
The Rangers goaltender will take his next step toward becoming a champion on Wednesday night when the puck drops in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As he sat at a podium and addressed a throng of media Tuesday afternoon at Staples Center, Lundqvist offered a glimpse into his burning desire to become a member of New York sports royalty, joining the likes of Namath, Jeter, Messier and Manning.
“Since my first couple of days at the training center and seeing that photo from ’94, I’ve been walking by that photo every day for nine years. And I’ve seen myself being them and I definitely want to be there,” Lundqvist said. “It’s been a dream for a long time, and to be in this position it’s extreme excitement.”
“(In the pictures) there’s Messier, there’s guys on the buses (in the parade), there’s people everywhere, entire New York celebrating. It’s a sports town,” Lundqvist continued. “When things start going well for any team in that town, it’s exciting, and we’ve seen the Yankees and the Giants and when they’ve been winning, you see what happens to the city and obviously what it would mean to this organization and everything. It would be very special to be a part of.”
The Rangers have missed the playoffs only once (2010) since the 2004-05 lockout, but New York rarely tends to remember its runners-up. Now, for the first time in 20 years, the Rangers are the talk of the town.
Derick Brassard, for one, isn’t surprised. The center says the road to the Cup started as far back as last season, almost immediately after the Bruins eliminated the Blueshirts in the second round of the playoffs.
“The best thing I learned last year was when we got beat by Boston and what our leadership group said after the game,” Brassard said. “I didn’t know anything about the playoffs. It was my first time. And all of the leadership was like, ‘that’s not where we want to be, this team has bigger expectations.’ I was like, ‘Hey, we won one round, we got beaten by Boston, which was a pretty good team.’ But I remember that speech and I was like ‘OK, this organization wants to win.’ These players that have been here for a while, they want to win. It’s no coincidence we’re here right now.”
Later, Brassard was more specific about who in that “leadership group” led the way.
“The goalie,” Brassard said. “That’s the one that sticks out.”
Lundqvist has been the Rangers’ best player this postseason and has inserted himself into the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation with a 12-7 record, a 2.03 goals-against average and an NHL-leading .928 save percentage.
He faces a tall order for his first NHL crown against opposing goaltender and former Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings, who hoisted the Cup in 2012.
But Lundqvist remains confident in his club, and while a Stanley Cup is the goaltender’s ultimate goal, a parade down the Canyon of Heroes wouldn’t be so bad either.
“For nine years, every day that I’ve been in New York, it’s been a dream to be part of a winning team in New York,” Lundqvist said. “It’s not always about the last game of the season, trying to win that, it’s about the entire season, every year to see what you can accomplish year after year.
“But when you break it down, in the end, of course, you want to win. You want to win the Cup and we’re four wins away. I know this next step will be the toughest one to take. But to me personally, it would mean everything to me.”
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