PITTSBURGH — Henrik Lundqvist’s availability for Saturday’s Game 2 of the first-round series against the Penguins was up in the air Thursday for several reasons. The team’s No. 1 goaltender was seeing a local eye specialist, and if he is cleared, he still will have to test his vision in practice Friday before returning.
“He’s been checked by our doctors, but at this time, we don’t feel that it’s anything too serious,” coach Alain Vig neault said as the Rangers regrouped after Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss, during which Lundqvist accidentally was poked through the right eyehole of his mask by teammate Marc Staal, who was battling near the crease. “There’s a little bit of swelling near the [right] eye and we’ll have more news [Friday].’’
Goaltender Magnus Hellberg, with one NHL period under his belt this season, was recalled from Hartford as a possible backup “in case we get some bad news,” Vigneault said. “But at this time we don’t feel that way, and it’s just a matter of where the injury is and being on the safe side.”
Antti Raanta, who replaced Lundqvist after the first intermission, is ready to go Saturday if Lundqvist can’t as the Rangers try to even the series at Consol Energy Center before heading home for Games 3 and 4. It would be the Finnish goaltender’s first NHL playoff start after 52 regular-season starts during two seasons in Chicago and one in New York. “It’s tough shoes to fill,” Rick Nash said.
After an on-ice evaluation, the decision to allow Lundqvist, the team’s franchise player, to continue to play in Game 1 was based on conversations between the goaltender and medical staff.
“At that stage, we were putting him in a very tough spot; he doesn’t want to put his backup in with a minute to go in the period, so he’s convincing himself he’s all right,” Vigneault said. “I’m not saying that had anything to do with the goal. We had three guys watching the puck behind the net and left No. 72 [Patric Hornqvist] alone. But when he came in [to the locker room], he had a tough time seeing. It was a medical staff [decision], with the information he was giving them at that time.”
At a postgame team meal Wednesday night, Vigneault told Lundqvist that after the incident, “I came real close to saying, ‘Why don’t we get this checked out?’ But he was adamant at that time, and you’ve got to trust the player and his rapport with Rammer [head trainer Jim Ramsay].”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan also has a goaltender decision to make. Marc-Andre Fleury, out since March 31 with concussion symptoms, took part in another optional practice Thursday, as did third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff, who made 35 saves in Game 1.
Nash said there was frustration that the Rangers couldn’t take advantage of Zatkoff early and made too many errors defensively. “Any time you have a fresh goalie, you want to put everything on net, get one by him early, get him questioning himself,” he said. “We had some good momentum and couldn’t finish the deal . . . We made too many mistakes; when a team’s that good, you can’t be giving them opportunities on their own.”
On Tom Kuhnhackl’s two-on-one shorthanded goal in the third period that gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead, Nash said, “I was on the backcheck, thought it was a one-on-one and pulled up to change. Probably should’ve continued to skate. A tough read by myself.”
And lone defender Keith Yandle lamented: “I’ve got to stop that pass.”
No matter who the goaltenders are Saturday, Derek Stepan said, “All we have to focus on is how to get better from Game 1 and how we’re gonna win Game 2.”