Henrik Lundqvist looks back on Rangers career before looking up at his retired No. 30

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Henrik Lundqvist is used to seeing Rangers history honored up-close.

He was a 25-year-old phenom and eight years removed from being an overlooked seventh-round pick when Brian Leetch’s No. 2 was raised up into the Madison Square Garden rafters in 2008. One year later, it was Adam Graves’ No. 9 joining the now 10 New York legends to have their numbers forever immortalized in The World’s Most Famous Arena.

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But through all of Lundqvist’s own historic moments: the Vezina trophy in 2012, the six straight game seven victories, the 10 playoff shutouts, the three-game masterpiece to lead New York out of a 3-1 hole against the Penguins in the 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Lundqvist could never imagine joining those 10 names above the hallowed MSG ice.

But even if he couldn’t, those that are already in those rafters, particularly Graves and fellow goalie Mike Richter, knew they would have future company.

“They said ‘Hank, It’s gonna be you one day,’” Lundqvist said, looking back on the conversations he had with fellow Ranger greats during previous retirement ceremonies. “I was just laughing…it’s too hard to imagine. But when they said, when Drury called me this fall and said it was gonna happen this year, my first reaction was ‘I can’t wait to come back here and thank everyone.’ I’m so happy and grateful for everything.”

As Lundqvist prepares to thank the Rangers organization and the fanbase during Friday night’s ceremony to forever retire his No. 30, the fans will offer a thanks of their own, acknowledging the backbone of an organization that boasted arguably the best goaltender in the league for more than a decade, and the face of the team’s lone Eastern Conference champion since winning it all in 1994.

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Lundqvist, emotional when thanking his family and the rangers greats before him, is ready for any emotions that may hit him when he sees his number, the 11th in franchise history, raised up next to the names that assured him he would one day be up there.

“If I cry, I cry,” Lundqvist said. “I just want to walk out there tonight being in the moment, and to feel as much as I can feel.”

Lundqvist didn’t always allow himself to embrace the present and enjoy the ride during New York’s annual push towards an elusive Stanley Cup. Lundqvist never got to experience hockey immortality, but he saved his best for when it mattered most, logging 88 saves in the final two games of the 2014 Stanley Cup, once again trying to will an inferior team to victory by masking its mediocrity with his otherworldly brilliance.

Now that his furious quest is over, the 39-year-old can look back on the ride with fondness, rather than what could have been.

“Going after something for so long…it gives you a passion for something, and I think that was the most important thing for so many years…that was part of it of course,” Lundqvist said. “We had a window of really good teams and opportunities to win. It didn’t happen. When I think back, it's all about what happened and not so much what didn't happen. I'm extremely grateful for all the big years we had.”

While Lundqvist never made the trip down the Canyon of Heroes, he is still arguably the franchise’s most heroic figure, and is forever a part of New York City’s most immortalized athletes.

“You don't know where life is going to take you when you move here and leave everything in Sweden and completely change your life, but we really enjoy staying here and being part of the city and all the things you can do here,” Lundqvist said. “The Rangers are obviously a huge part of the city and for us, and the entire experience.

“I felt like year three, that was when it turned from traveling here for work to ‘OK, I’m coming home.’ I remember that feeling…it took time to adjust to the new things, but since then, it’s become my home.”

Now, Lundqvist prepares to settle into his new home: above the ice where he dominated for 15 years, set to go down as one of the most accomplished Rangers in franchise history, like the ones who knew his number would be hanging alongside theirs one day.

“The past 15 have been the best 15 years of my life being part of this organization,” Lundqvist said. “This means everything to me and my family.”

Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1

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