After missing 24 games due to a throat injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in the New York Rangers lineup Thursday night – but as the backup. With the Rangers getting their all-star goaltender back, it might be tough to stop them come playoffs.
It’s like a nightmare scenario for the rest of the NHL. The New York Rangers, arguably the hottest team in the league, are getting their starting goaltender back tonight. And the team has been playing so well that the Rangers are just going to let him watch from the bench.
That’s right – after 24 games on the injured reserve, Henrik Lundqvist has been officially activated by the Rangers and will dress tonight to backup Cam Talbot. If it was looking difficult to catch the Rangers for first place in the Metropolitan Division before this, it’s about to get that much harder.
It’s really a situation of the rich getting richer, too. Talbot backstopped the Rangers, who have ranked atop The Hockey News’ Power Rankings for two weeks in a row, for the bulk of Lundqvist’s absence, surrendering only two starts to Mackenzie Skapski. And Talbot has been lights out.
Since Feb. 4, when Lundqvist officially went on the shelf, Talbot has posted a .934 save percentage at 5-on-5, an overall SP of .927, 2.21 goals-against average and record of 15-4-3.
And while Talbot’s numbers are impressive, when Lundqvist gets back between the pipes, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be giving up his spot again. In 39 games this season, Lundqvist has a record of 25-11-3, .922 SP and 2.25 GAA with five shutouts. Missing more than a quarter of the season, Lundqvist is stil tied for seventh in shutouts, a category he has led twice in his career.
The timing couldn’t be better for the Rangers, either. With 10 games remaining in their season and a stranglehold on the division lead, they can ease Lundqvist back into action and keep him rested for the playoffs. With the way they’ve been playing of late, there’s little concern that they’ll slip out of first place in the Metropolitan.
If New York gets a good draw in the Eastern Conference – they’re likely to play a wild-card team if they stay in first, and they’d probably much prefer to draw Ottawa over Washington – there’s no telling how deep the Rangers could go. According to our THN Puck Poll, fans consider New York the team most likely to win the Stanley Cup.
After an appearance in the final last season, the Rangers have the experience necessary for another deep run. On their way to the finals in 2013-14, Lundqvist posted a .927 SP and 2.14 GAA after playing 63 regular season contests. If his numbers are anywhere near the same this season, look out for the Rangers.