A year ago, the Rangers were three wins away from their first Stanley Cup in 21 years.

This year, fans are hoping they can finish the job.

The Blueshirts open the playoffs tonight against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins and are clear favorites to win the best-of-seven series after finishing with a league-best 113 points this season. Excited fans said the Big Apple is in desperate need of a championship.

"Are you kidding? I can't wait!" said Pete Mastrocinque, 33, after he toasted his team with a shot of Jameson at a midtown bar.

The last time the Rangers won an NHL championship was in 1994, when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks to ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.

Adam Herman, an editor at Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter, said fans were pleasantly surprised that the team made it to the final last year, especially after enduring back-to-back sudden death, Game 7s in the playoffs along the way.

"This year, people are happy with the regular season's success, but they weren't in awe like last time," he said.

Ashley Nelson, 23, a bartender at Local, which is right next to Madison Square Garden, said the Rangers have been building up expectations over the course of a stellar season.

"Their confidence is better this season -- that's why they've been so good," Nelson said.

Jimmy Pagan, 50, a fan from Port Richmond, S.I., said he was pumped and wouldn't let a planned funeral stop him from cheering the Rangers.

"I'll have it recorded on cable," he said.

Herman said the Ranger passion has been good for the city, especially since the Jets, Giants and Knicks all have had rough seasons of late.

He didn't think that the fans' expectations would go to the players' heads, either.

"This team has been through the high and lows. If there is any team that is prepared to deal with the pressures, it's this Rangers group," he said.