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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Henrik Lundqvist the constant for New York’s team of the decade

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers sits

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers sits on the bench early in the second period after he was removed from a game against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac


Here we are, closer to 2020 than to 2010, so the Rangers might already have clinched the title of New York’s most consistent sports franchise of the decade.

The 2011 Giants did win it all, of course, but Big Blue generally does not bother with playoffs in years it does not win the Super Bowl.

The Blueshirts start the climb back up the hill each spring, only to have the rock roll back down before they can lift the Stanley Cup. It would be unfair to call their effort Sisyphean, though. That myth was based on a punishment, after all, and this largely has been a hockey celebration, so far missing only the biggest party of all.

So before the long road back toward the Cup begins anew Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, let us pause to appreciate what the current generation of Rangers has done to this point.

The core of the “group” — a word hockey people use when others would say “team” — has been together a long time, including six players who have been in six straight playoffs and on teams that have won eight series in the past four years:

They are goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, defensemen Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh and forwards Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, all still key members of the team.

Has there been a thread running through all that winning, including three conference finals, one Cup Final and one Presidents’ Trophy?

“I think it comes down to will,” said Lundqvist, who returned to practice Tuesday after an illness Monday that sent fevered chills through nervous Rangers fans. “I think the difference between teams is not very big anymore. It comes down to how much do you want it? How much do you want to win games in November, in December?

“It’s not only about having hot stretches. You need to be pretty consistent. Consistency, that’s what it is . . . I think we’re a group that when you get a taste of it, it’s fun. It’s exciting to be part of the playoffs. You take a lot of pride in it, too, to be there, to try to be there.

“But it’s getting tougher and tougher every year in this league because the competition in the league is high.”

Lundqvist neglected to mention arguably the biggest single reason the Rangers have been contenders for so long: Lundqvist himself.

Staal was trying to explain the franchise’s run of success when eventually he mentioned No. 30, after which he trailed off and stopped speaking, apparently realizing he had gotten to an essential point.

“Since I’ve been here [2007] they’ve tried to put players and coaches in position to succeed,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. We’ve had some good teams and good players go through.

“And, obviously, with Hankie being our goalie, that consistency is huge.”

Neither Lundqvist in particular nor the team in general was consistent in the regular season, which likely will mean next to nothing once the forever unpredictable NHL tournament begins.

Anything short of a Cup will and should be considered a disappointment for a team with a 34-year-old future Hall of Fame goalie and a win-now approach.

Winning championships is the object of the games, so the Rangers of the 2010s still have an incomplete on their report cards in that subject.

But entertaining us is the object of the quest. Give them an ‘A’ in that department.

New York Sports