Lundqvist: 'This year is a little special'

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers have been pegged as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season -- and they know it.

"Playing here in New York, you always have to deal with pressure and expectations," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said Wednesday. "But you can still feel this year is a little special, coming from last year, and the fans are really excited."

The Rangers finished with 109 points in 2011-12 -- tops in the Eastern Conference, and tied for second-most in the entire league. They lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, but with the offseason acquisition of star winger Rick Nash, the Rangers are expected to be just as good, if not better, in 2012-13.

"I think that will be one of our challenges -- how to handle expectations from the outside, but also the pressure we’re gonna put on ourselves," Lundqvist said. "Last year was a lot of fun, we won a lot, and I keep saying this, but we have to remember why we had success. We were working really hard every night, and even though we have some talented skill players, I think our biggest reason for success last year was the hard work. That has to continue."

Having Lundqvist, last year's Vezina Trophy winner as the top goaltender in the league, back between the pipes will certainly help. So will the return of center Brad Richards, who had 25 goals and 41 assists last season, in his first year with the team. Richards missed the first three days of training camp with the flu, but was back on the ice Wednesday.

"We’re not just out here trying to make the playoffs or stay in the middle of the pack," Richards said. "We do want to push ourselves to be up top again."

"I think we also have to realize that everybody knows who we are and knows the expectations, so we’re gonna get a lot of good efforts and not surprise anybody," he added. "So I think we’re gonna have to play better than we did last year to even have a chance to have that record."

Lundqvist is happy with what he's seen thus far.

"I like what we have here -- a mix of hard-working guys and some skill, young and old players," the goalie said. "I can’t wait to get out there and see what we can do."