Now Henrik Lundqvist has the opportunity to completely turn the page, to leave one of his lowest stretches well behind him and truly return to normalcy after his important step forward Thursday night in Toronto.
“It’s just one game, but it’s something to build off,” Lundqvist said after making 23 saves in the Rangers’ 5-2 win. “You take it one by one, that’s all you can do. It hasn’t been fun the last few days, I’m not gonna lie, but I worked really hard in practice and I tried to gain confidence from there.”
Lundqvist and the Rangers needed Thursday’s result badly after what had transpired over the last week, 16 pucks getting by Lundqvist in three games, including seven in two periods on Tuesday against Dallas. It came on the road — the Rangers lead the NHL with 16 road victories — against a young, talented Maple Leafs squad competing for a playoff spot ahead of schedule.
It stopped the bleeding, but it can’t end there, because what will Thursday mean if during Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised game in Detroit there’s another setback for Lundqvist and the Rangers’ defensive structure?
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“We have a lot of confidence in Hank,” Alain Vigneault said. “We knew it was just a matter of time, and now he’s gotta follow it up with another big game against Detroit.”
The Rangers were off Friday ahead of a scheduled Saturday practice before traveling for Sunday’s game against the Red Wings. That begins a stretch of three games in four nights, continuing with home matches Monday against the Kings and Wednesday against the Flyers, before the Blueshirts head into the All-Star break.
From Lundqvist on out the Rangers put together a quality performance on Thursday, and with all of their big guns back up front, the high-powered Rangers’ offense has been in full swing. The club is averaging 4.4 goals per game over its last 10 contests, and five per game over the last three.
Rick Nash (four points) and Pavel Buchnevich (six points) have been productive in four games since coming back from injuries, and Mika Zibanejad has excelled in two games since his return, including scoring twice in his first game back on Tuesday.
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The Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello trio has been a consistent combination over the last six weeks, and Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller are finding chemistry again.
Since being dropped to the fourth line for one game against Ottawa on Dec. 27, Miller has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in nine games.
“I think we really challenged ourselves to come out and be better,” Miller said after Thursday’s win.
The offense can help take some pressure off Lundqvist, who is seeking to be on the ascent.
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“I think every athlete and hockey player obviously goes through stretches where it’s just a lot harder to get it done, especially at this level,” Lundqvist said. “All it takes is you lose five, six percent and that’s the difference between being OK and being great.”
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