It was very casually the way Henrik Lundqvist walked passed the assembled media on the sidelines of Rangers practice at the MSG Training Facility on Wednesday, in gym clothes and sweating. And it was very casually the way his coach, Alain Vigneault, later volunteered the fact the injured goaltender and franchise cornerstone has spent some time on the ice recently, staying in shape by mixing “off-ice and on-ice” workouts, all part of the “same protocol.”
And it all came out so easily because, even while Lundqvist recovers from his vascular injury that will keep him out until mid-March, the Blueshirts do not seem lost. Instead, with a seemingly unflinching agreement to let understudy Cam Talbot take sole possession of the netminding duties for as long as need be, the Rangers have only gained ground in the race for playoff seeding.
They will enter Thursday’s Garden match against the Canucks as winners of four in a row, 5-1-1 in the seven games since Lundqvist went down. Their record is now 34-16-5, four points behind the first-place Islanders while holding three games in hand. They’ve scored 22 goals in this four-game winning streak, and every time Lundqvist comes around, he has nothing but words of encouragement for Talbot.
“He’s been around a little bit,” said Talbot, who will make his eighth consecutive start Thursday.
“[Lundqvist] comes up, taps my pads, says, ‘Good game, keep going.’ He’s just happy that we’re not really falling apart or losing too much.
“There isn’t a lot of space in the standings. So I think Hanky is just happy about that. It takes a little stress off him, which is nice for him right now.”
It’s also nice for Vigneault, who hasn’t be forced to ask himself the question whether 20-year-old backup Mackenzie Skapski is ready to make his NHL debut. Even though Thursday is the first leg of a back-to-back, and the first of three games in four nights, it sure seems like without any mitigating circumstances, it will be All Cam, All The Time.