On St. Paddy’s Day, the Rangers got the luck of the Irish with starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The all-time franchise leader in wins (334) and shutouts (55) is finally medically cleared to return to practice.
Since suffering a sprained blood vessel, he’s missed the last 20 games. Despite that, the brilliant play of substitute Cam Talbot has led the club to a 15-2-3 record vaulting them into first place and the East’s top seed. They are two points up on Montreal and Tampa Bay. Talbot has gotten 18 starts going 13-2-3 with a 2.20 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage. Twenty-year old MacKenzie Skapski won both his starts against Buffalo allowing one goal while pitching his first NHL shutout.
Thanks to the security blanket, Glen Sather never panicked when Lundqvist went down. Even when Talbot struggled during a stretch that saw him allow some questionable goals, the organization stuck with him. With the help of goalie coach Benoit Allaire, he adjusted and has been remarkable allowing six goals over the last six starts. He was again selected as one of the NHL’s 3 Stars. The second time that’s happened.
With good news on Lundqvist, it means Talbot will soon go back to being the backup. Without him, none of this is possible. He stoned the Panthers in one of the team’s worst games. Assuming they bring him back this weekend, Lundqvist will assume the mantle as the coaching staff tries to get him game sharp for the playoffs. With 14 games left including tomorrow’s Rivalry Night match against Chicago, figure Hank to get most of the starts when he returns.
The schedule is spread out with the Rangers’ next game Saturday at Carolina. However, it picks up with a back-to-back against Anaheim and the Kings visiting MSG March 24 for three games in four days. Due in large part to having more days off than anyone else, the Blueshirts don’t have more than a day between the remaining 12. So, it’ll be busy which probably means Talbot should get a few starts keeping Lundqvist fresh.
Despite missing all that time, Lundqvist needs five wins to reach 30 for the ninth time in his career. The only season he didn’t win at least 30 was the shortened season of ’12-13 when he won 24 in 43 games.