NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — After sniffing a Stanley Cup Finals appearance last season and acquiring Rick Nash in the offseason, the Rangers have become a popular pick to win it all for the first time since 1994.

The Blueshirts went 51-24 last season to capture the Atlantic Division title, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. New York’s season ended prematurely when it lost to the neighboring Devils in six games.

But now expectations are even higher. It’s Stanley Cup or bust for the Rangers, and this team is ready to take it to the next level.

“I think we have the team to do it,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist told ESPN. “But then it’s about executing and handling expectations from the outside, but also within the room. We look at the guys in the room, (and) they’re great hockey players. But it’s about executing and (seeing) if we can do it.”

The Rangers will open their 48-game schedule with a very difficult stretch. New York will travel to Boston on January 19 before hosting the Penguins the next night at Madison Square Garden. Three days later the Rangers will play the Bruins again at MSG.

“I think the most important thing is what we feel in here, and we’re going to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do well,” Lundqvist said. “We want to do well, but we have to realize it’s a tough league and there are a lot of teams that can win this year, and for you to win you have to perform at a top level and you need a lot of things to go your way. But a thing you can control is how hard you work. (You) just have to be similar to last year and must improve in a few areas.”

Defenseman Marc Staal understands that there is a certain amount of pressure to perform this season, and he admitted that there are more expectations surrounding this team than any other Rangers squad that he’s been on since arriving in Manhattan in 2007.

“I think (with) the way we finished last year, the pieces we added in the offseason and (the) expectations outside the room, I don’t think it’s anything that anyone is going to shy away from,” Staal told ESPN. “We have to make sure that we focus on the way we need to play. (We have to) pick up where we left off last year and go from there, and not get too distracted by the big picture.”

After the second meeting against the Bruins, the Rangers will round out January against the Flyers on the road before heading home to square off with the Maple Leafs, Flyers and Penguins.

Is this the year, Rangers fans?! Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…

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