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After Vezina, goalie philosophy remains

Henrik Lundqvist hasn't played a competitive game since the Rangers' OT loss to the Devils in May. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- With reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Rangers don’t want to deviate from the plan.

With a shortened 48-game season the result of a lockout that spanned almost four months, neither Lundqvist or his backup, Martin Biron, will get anywhere close to the number of starts they have grown used to from years past.

But the approach from last season remains the same: Use Lundqvist enough to establish a rhythm while resting him in strategic spots to allow him time to fine-tune his mechanics and recharge the batteries.

“I really like the way it was handled last year,” Lundqvist said after practice Monday. “The planning they did worked well for us and I felt really fresh.”

The 30-year-old netminder is coming off his best season yet, one that helped lead the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals. Lundqvist racked up 39 wins while posting a 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage during the regular season.

He also did that while playing six games fewer -- 62 of 82 -- than any of the five previous seasons, a span during which he averaged 70.6 games per year.

The 35-year-old Biron, regarded as one of the most reliable backups in the league, posted a 12-6-2 record in 20 starts.

“The same philosophy will go into it,” coach John Tortorella said. “We felt it helped Marty, it helped the team, and more importantly, it helped Hank in terms of getting proper practice time with [goalie coach Benoit Allaire] and not just relying on continually playing.”

Like all NHL players who are seeing their normal training camp schedules compressed into a week or less, Lundqvist faces the challenge of getting into game shape by the season opener on Saturday, Jan. 19.

Without any preseason games on the schedule, however, goaltenders may endure the most steep curve in trying to return to form.

Lundqvist, who opted not to play overseas during the lockout, has not played an NHL game since May 25 -- the team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals.

“That’s a unique position,” Tortorella said. “I would think preseason games would help them more. But all the goalies -- the 60-plus goalies (in the league) -- they don’t have it. I have full faith in what Hank does, what Marty does and what Ben does with that. He’ll be ready to play.”

The last live-game action Lundqvist has seen outside of practice with his Rangers teammates was during a charity hockey game in Atlantic City, N.J., in November. He wasn’t feeling too rusty then; he made 57 saves.

“When it comes to the game situations, you just need to play and get minutes to feel comfortable,” Lundqvist said. "The biggest challenge is getting to a level where you feel really comfortable and are making good decisions.

“Normally, I feel like I need a couple of games until my game is where it should be. I’m going to do whatever I can here to reach that level as soon as possible, but I’m sure it’s going to take a few games at least before you feel great.”