GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) The New York Rangers went into the playoffs a year ago with a target on their backs.
They were the Presidents' Trophy winners, the NHL's best team in the regular season.
This year is different. They have been inconsistent and they head into the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins without their captain Ryan McDonagh. He is battling an upper-body injury (right hand).
Article continues below ...
But the Rangers have the great equalizer – goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
''Hank is one of the best, if not the best in the world,'' defenseman Kevin Klein said Tuesday after the Rangers practiced. ''Everyone knows that.
''You know you are going to get his best. We have to help him, and it's one of those things where you go out and play your game and if you make a mistake, Hank is there to save you,'' Klein said.
Lundqvist has been unbelievable against the Penguins in the playoffs the past two seasons. He is 7-1 against them since Game 5 in 2014, posting a 1.34 goals against average and .954 save percentage. He is 4-0 in Pittsburgh with a 0.99 GAA, saving 111 of 115 shots.
Lundqvist said it's easy to get ready for the Penguins, knowing they have Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.
''It's always exciting to measure yourself against top players in the league and Pittsburgh has been a team over the last few years that has had a really strong team,'' Lundqvist said. ''They play a fast game, so for a team and especially for a goalie it's always a lot of action, mentally and physically, technically you just have to prepare for that.''
Lundqvist is cramming a little. He left practice Monday because he was not feeling well. He felt better Tuesday and practiced, but he intends to work in the pre-game skate Wednesday to iron out some final details in his game.
The Penguins were 3-1 against the Rangers this season, winning once in overtime.
''He has some really good skill in the nets and I think he can read the game really well, and on top of that he is competing really hard,'' Rangers center Derick Brassard said of Lundqvist. ''If you put everything together it makes a really good goaltender. We are pretty lucky to have him on our side.''
Lundqvist always enjoys this time of year. The pressure picks up and the excitement is greater. It's time to enjoy the moment and the Rangers have done that, reaching the Cup finals two years ago and the conference finals last year, a postseason they beat the Penguins with every game decided by a goal.
''I think it comes down to will,'' Lundqvist said. ''I think the difference between teams is not big anymore.''
McDonagh joined the team on the ice late in practice and worked on some skating drills. On Monday, he had a left-handed stick and carried it in his right hand, the one that was hurt last week against Columbus.
Coach Alain Vigneault said there is a chance he will play in the series.
Fellow defenseman Dan Girardi (upper-body injury) practiced Tuesday after sitting out Monday.