By Chris DiMaria
When Henrik Lundqvist went down January 31st against the Carolina Hurricanes after taking a shot to the neck, New York Rangers fans held their breaths. He was able to finish the game and record a win in the ensuing matchup, but then had to bow out of the next contest with a vascular injury in his neck. Ranger fans held their breaths even longer as they awaited the news on their beloved goaltender.
Now, just over a month later, their leading goaltender was cleared to play, right on schedule.
Lundqvist’s return could not come at a more opportune time, with the Rangers 14 games away from the playoffs. They hold a five-point lead over the second-place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division and are tied for first in the league, so the Blueshirts weren’t exactly suffering. However, The King’s comeback gives the Rangers extra support and insurance in net as the playoffs approach.Embed from Getty Images
In the 20 games Lundqvist has missed, the Rangers offense has needed to step up. With The King’s backups in net, the defense has allowed 3.9 goals per game. That is much higher than its 2.3 season average, which is third in the league, according to ESPN.com.
On the bright side, the offense has done its job. The Rangers are 15-2-3 in Lundqvist’s absence, and have gone from being four points out of the division lead to holding a secure lead.
The Rangers doctors cleared Lundqvist to return to practice on Tuesday. General manager Glen Sather said Wednesday that the veteran goaltender will need about 10 more days to get ready to return to competition. That would mean Lundqvist would miss six more games, given he sits out March 28th against the Boston Bruins.
Still, by higher math Lundqvist will be available for the last eight regular season games. This is optimal, as Sather added that the key is to get Lundqvist into some games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to NHL.com.
With Lundqvist and backup Cam Talbot at full force heading into the playoffs, the Rangers crease will be tough to beat no matter who’s in net. Even though the defense has struggled in Lundqvist’s absence, Talbot has really adjusted well to the starting role.Embed from Getty Images
Talbot has come to life over his past 10 games, notching an 8-1-1 record. He has won his last four starts, giving up just three goals during that span, according to ESPN.com.
The Rangers topped the Sports Illustrated NHL power rankings for the second week in a row this week, so New York has no reason to rush Lundqvist back into action. Expect a roaring ovation in The King’s return, followed by a deep playoff run led by the newly revitalized Blueshirts crease.