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STOCKHOLM (AP) — New York Rangers coach John Tortorella can tell Henrik Lundqvist wants to produce something special for his home fans in Friday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
“I watched him practice today — he didn’t give in on one shot,” Tortorella said Thursday. “He has certainly ramped it up here to prepare himself.”
The Swedish goalkeeper has been the center of attention as the two teams prepare for their regular season opener, part of the NHL’s annual European tour. After getting a hero’s welcome for a preseason game against his former club Frolunda in Goteborg last week, Lundqvist was again swarmed by a throng of journalists in the locker room after Thursday’s practice.
The crowd at the Globe Arena in the Swedish capital is likely to give the 2006 Olympic gold medalist another overwhelming reception on Friday.
“Of course, I know there’s going to be some tension coming back to Sweden to play, but … when the game starts you don’t really think about where you are,” Lundqvist said. “I feel really good about starting. I’m excited.”
For their part, the Kings know they’ll be up against a goalkeeper with something to prove.
“Lundqvist is a premier goalie in the league,” Kings’ coach Terry Murray said. “We’re going to have to make sure that we get people in his face, in his eyes. If he’s able to see that puck from wherever it’s being shot, then he’s going to be able to stop it.”
Both the Rangers and the Kings are coming off first-round elimination from the playoffs last season and have made a number of key acquisitions in an attempt to go deeper this time around.
The Rangers are pinning much of their hopes on center Brad Richards, who inked a nine-year, $60 million deal with the club, while the Kings signed center Mike Richards and left winger Simon Gagne, former Philadelphia Flyers teammates who will be expected to help the team chalk up more goals, particularly on the power play.
“Every season you know your role. We play on the first two lines and on the power play,” Gagne said of himself and Richards. He described their job as “helping the team to win the most hockey games this year — for sure scoring some goals and get on the scoring sheet.”
But if anyone on the Kings’ roster is likely to feel pressure, it is 21-year-old Drew Doughty, who became one of the league’s top paid defensemen after signing an eight-year, $56 million contract on Sept. 29.
Doughty, who after just three years has become one of the NHL’s elite players, was a restricted free agent last summer and failed to report to training camp in September while negotiating a lucrative deal.
“Obviously I have to play my best. I got that contract for a reason — because I showed people how I could play,” he told The Associated Press. “Now that I have it, I’m obviously not going to step off the gas. I want to continue to get better and better every year, and I know I can do that with experience and maturity.”
As far as the missed practices, Doughty said he feels that he’s made up for lost time.
“At the exhibition game in Hamburg I felt a little slow in the first period there, but after that
I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “Now I have no excuses — I’m ready to play.”
New York will be without Sean Avery, who was sent to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL, a move that allowed the Rangers to drop his $1.93 million from the team’s salary cap.
Tortorella said Tuesday that some of the team’s younger players had beat out Avery, though the popular agitator will still leave a void.
“I miss Sean,” Rangers defenseman Brian Boyle said. “It sucks. Stuff happens, but whenever guys come or go it’s not the best situation, but you just keep going.”
The Rangers will play the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Saturday in Sweden before traveling back to North America, while the Kings will go to Berlin to play the Buffalo Sabers.