By Chris DiMaria
The New York Rangers currently own a secure spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It would take a catastrophic drop-off for New York to miss out on the upcoming playoffs, and have a reasonable chance at stealing the Metropolitan Division lead.
But one unusual injury makes that comfortable seat start to heat up.
Brad Malone, center for the Carolina Hurricanes, flicked a shot that struck the exposed neck of goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a winning effort January 31st against the Hurricanes. The replay looked brutal, as Lundqvist immediately fell to the ice squirming in pain, but The King played on and finished the game. He even got the win in the crease two days later against the Florida Panthers.
However, he was benched in favor of backup goalie Cam Talbot in the following game – a home win against the Boston Bruins. Later, Rangers fans were met with the news that they will be seeing a lot more of number 33, as Lundqvist was declared out for at least a month with a “vascular injury,” reported by Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
The injury is obscure and rarely seen, but requires the utmost care for recovery, according to ESPN’s Stephania Bell. Lundqvist will be re-evaluated in a few weeks, and it is uncertain how long it will take before he is ready to return for a playoff push.Embed from Getty Images
The Rangers have pulled within four points out of the Metropolitan Division lead, so Lundqvist’s injury takes some life out of a prospective season for both the player and his team. His stats run consistent with his career averages, and place him towards the top of this year’s netminders, according to Tim Daniels of Bleacher Report.
Lundqvist is sporting 2.25 goals against average (GAA) this season, which is good for seventh, according to NHL.com. Even more impressive, his .922 save percentage is just a hair shy of cracking the top five (NHL.com).
The immediate reaction for the Blueshirts is that this means Cam Talbot must defend the eight-point cushion on which New York currently sits. However, if the backup can get the job done, the Rangers can make a charge against the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh has dropped 7 of its last 11, and the Isles have been lackluster as of late; they’ve been outscored 21-14 in their last seven games, according to ESPN.com.
Talbot has been effective thus far in his backup role. In his second season with the Rangers, he sports a 17-11 record with a .932 save percentage, according to ESPN.com. However, it is yet to be seen how he will react to being thrown into the starting role.
Talbot has been in a similar situation before, but the added late-season pressure will throw in more stress this time around. However, in an article written by Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post, Talbot seemed excited about the opportunity to become a regular in the crease.Embed from Getty Images
“I’m hoping it might be a little easier being in there for more than one game every two weeks,” Talbot said. “It’s a different mind-set I think, going in there knowing that I might get a couple games here in a row. But it’s something I’ve done in the past and I look forward to the opportunity to do it again.”
New York recalled young goalie Mackenzie Skapski to act as Talbot’s backup. The 20-year-old has never logged a NHL game in his career, and still may not see the ice during his stint with the club. The Blueshirts must act by March 2nd if they wish to add any serious depth.
The Rangers have the option to throw a line out before the trade deadline, which would mean working with the limited salary cap room they have. G Jhonas Enroth or G Michal Neuvirth of the Buffalo Sabres, or even Edmonton Oilers G Viktor Fasth, would provide experience in the net at an affordable price of under $3 million, according to Dan Rosen of NHL.comEmbed from Getty Images
These options would be ideal if any decline in Lundqvist’s condition should occur before the end of the month, they would give New York experienced depth at the position going into the playoffs.
The Rangers play the Islanders twice in the next month, but don’t get a shot at the second-place Pens for the rest of the season. New York looks to rally off its exciting 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday in Colorado against the Colorado Avalanche.