Henrik Lundqvist

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Goalie nods: Henrik Lundqvist returns for Rangers

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After missing nearly three weeks due to a lower body injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the New York Rangers on Sunday night when the team visits the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Alain Vigneault already said that Lundqvist is expected to start two of the three games on this west coast trip, and after Antti Raanta started and recorded the shutout in Los Angeles on Saturday night it seems that Lundqvist will finish the trip with starts against the Ducks and then again on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Lundqvist has not played since March 7 when he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in a win over the Florida Panthers.

It was that game that Lundqvist suffered the injury that kept him out of the lineup.

Raanta played every game for the Rangers during his absence and continued what has been a strong season as Lundqvist’s primary backup, but if the Rangers are going to have a chance in the postseason they are not only going to need a healthy Lundqvist, but to also have him playing at the level he has been playing at over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of February Lundqvist has recorded a .931 save percentage in his 14 appearances for the Rangers.

Speaking of the postseason, the Rangers can clinch a spot in the playoffs on Sunday night with a win over the Ducks.

No official word from the Ducks on their starter on Sunday, but look for Jonathan Bernier to get an opportunity to continue his recent hot streak.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— It was Devan Dubnyk going against Jimmy Howard in the early NBC game between the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

Keith Kinkaid gets the start at home for the New Jersey Devils when they go against the Dallas Stars, who will be countering with Kari Lehtonen.

Matt Murray goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers went with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday so look for Steve Mason on Sunday.

Michael Hutchinson will be in net for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have not announced their starter, but after Richard Bachman got the start on Saturday it should be Ryan Miller in net for this one.

Survival of the lucky? Stanley Cup playoff hopes can rise and fall with significant injuries

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There’s plenty of knocking on wood this time of year around the NHL as teams hope to avoid injuries that could damage their playoff hopes.

For some, it’s already too late.

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost Steven Stamkos for four months — and counting — and now Tyler Johnson. The Florida Panthers went without Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov for much of the year. The Los Angeles Kings tried to stay afloat without goaltender Jonathan Quick until late February but will likely miss the playoffs.

While the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have withstood a barrage of injuries and the league-leading Washington Capitals have largely avoided them, they’re keenly aware of how quickly even one injury can make a difference.

“There’s other teams that are good teams that have just had some bad luck,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “Tampa Bay just couldn’t overcome the injuries. If Tampa Bay has Stamkos all the way through the season, they’d certainly be in a different place.”

Read more: Injuries keep adding up for Lightning

Considered Cup contenders at the start of the season, the Lightning had to make a run just to get within three points of a playoff spot with nine games remaining.

The Panthers got Barkov and Huberdeau back and dug out of an early hole, but a lower-body injury to goaltender Roberto Luongo contributed to a 3-7-1 tailspin that might ultimately cost them the chance to make the postseason for a second consecutive year.

“Sometimes just your body breaks up because of the games and stuff like that,” said Barkov, who missed 15 games with a back injury. “Some teams just get more injuries, and some teams just get lucky not to get injuries.”

Injuries have again been the story of the year for the Penguins, who are currently without half their regular defense in Kris Letang, Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, and also lost trade acquisition Ron Hainsey. But they haven’t missed a beat.

“The guys that have come in just understanding whatever role that they get, they have to be accepting of it,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “They have a lot of responsibility in most cases, too, because they’re filling in for some guys who play a lot of key minutes.”

Injuries were a severe blow to the Dallas Stars, with 292 man games lost, and 265 man games lost has put the Detroit Red Wings’ 25-season playoff streak in serious jeopardy. The Edmonton Oilers have around 300 man games lost, but unlike last year’s stumble when Connor McDavid broke his collarbone they are poised to end a 10-year playoff drought.

“This organization seems to have a way of getting beat up and having injuries and needing others to support the group, and this year I think we’ve done a better job,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We haven’t lost those key forwards, knock on wood, like we did last year.”

Tampa Bay did when Stamkos tore the meniscus in his right knee Nov. 15 after putting up 20 points in his first 17 games. Friday night marked his 57th consecutive game out of the lineup.

Yet in Washington, the Capitals have a grand total of 42 man games lost all season and have only dealt with a hand injury that sidelined forward Andre Burakovsky 15 games and upper-body ailments that cost T.J. Oshie 13. Defenseman Brooks Orpik believes the Capitals’ fortunes are a combination of off-ice injury prevention techniques and luck, while the team’s brass thinks it’s also about taxing players less each game.

“The team philosophy of going four lines and spreading the ice time out and spreading the ice time out on defense and spreading the ice time out among your goalies, I think it puts less stress on your lineup,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Having a deep team, I think, results in less injuries.”

Depth up front helped the Chicago Blackhawks withstand captain Jonathan Toews‘ nine-game absence with back problems, and having backup Antti Raanta kept the New York Rangers on track when goaltender Henrik Lundqvist went out for two weeks this month with a lower-body injury. Lundqvist is expected back this weekend.

The Columbus Blue Jackets feel fortunate not to need to test their depth again this season after injuries ravaged them to the count of 510 man games lost two years ago. They’ve overcome defenseman Seth Jones‘ broken foot and Ryan Murray‘s broken hand to make the playoffs for the third time in franchise history, so it doesn’t feel at all like 2014-15 in Columbus.

“It’s just too good of a league to be able to survive that type of season,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “This year we’ve been lucky and hopefully done some things right as well where we haven’t been injured as much and knock on wood hopefully stay healthy for the rest of the year.”

Goalie nods: Raanta goes back-to-back in Battle of New York

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Another chapter in one of the league’s most storied rivalries will be written tonight, when the Isles take on the Rangers at MSG.

And in goal, it’ll be Thomas Greiss against Antti Raanta.

Raanta, the goalie of record in seven of the Rangers’ last eight games, gets the call even though Henrik Lundqvist is reportedly healthy enough to return from his hip injury. Lundqvist is expected to resume playing on the club’s upcoming three-game California swing through Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

So that means tonight’s game falls to Raanta, who continues to put up solid numbers. He’s now at 15-7-2 on the year with a 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage, and has allowed three goals or fewer in each of his last five appearances. That includes last night’s 3-2 OT loss to the Devils, in which he made 26 saves.

Greiss, meanwhile, is coming off a very good performance in Saturday’s 3-2 OT loss to the Jackets. He stopped 35 of 38 shots for a .921 save percentage, and knows he’ll need to be as good — or better — as the Isles are in desperate need of points.

The Isles head into tonight’s action three points back of the Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Elsewhere…

— Toronto won’t start former Blue Jacket Curtis McElhinney tonight, when it visits Columbus. Instead, head coach Mike Babcock will continue to roll with the red-hot Frederik Andersen, who’s coming off a 33-save win against Boston on Monday. For the Jackets, Joonas Korpisalo looks to be in goal.

Jonathan Bernier continues to pile up the starts in Anaheim, with John Gibson still nursing his lower-body injury. Bernier will get the call when the Ducks host the Oilers tonight. And guess who’s in for Edmonton? If you guessed anybody other than Cam Talbot, you haven’t been reading this column often enough.

Henrik Lundqvist will return on upcoming road trip

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Henrik Lundqvist, sidelined for the past two weeks due to a hip injury, will not be in the lineup tonight when the Rangers host the New York Islanders but he should be ready to make his return when the team hits the road this week for a west coast trip.

Coach Alain Vigneault confirmed that backup Antti Raanta will get the start on Wednesday, but that Lundqvist “should” be ready to play two of the three games out west.

Lundqvist said he could have played tonight but the decision was not his.

Following Wednesday’s game the Rangers visit the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. With the Kings and Ducks games coming as part of a back-to-back it seems logical to assume that one of those two games will be the one he sits.

Lundqvist was injured earlier this month in a win over the Florida Panthers and has been out of the lineup ever since. The Rangers have gone 2-2-2 in his absence with Raanta getting all of the playing time. Magnus Hellbeg had been serving as his backup.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Lundqvist as a mid-season slump saw him lose some playing time to Raanta. But before his recent injury he had been starting to return to his usual form with a save percentage north of .930 in his 14 appearances between February and March.

Raanta has been great filling in for Lundqvist this season, currently owning a .920 save percentage. Signed for $1 million per year through next season he has been a steal for the Rangers.

NHL on NBCSN: Rangers look to end six-game home losing streak against desperate Isles

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the New York Rangers host the New York Islanders at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Rangers aren’t in any danger of missing the playoffs, but their recent mediocre stretch has nearly pushed them out of contention for one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division.

While they dropped a 3-2 OT decision to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday (they never held the lead), both the Penguins and Capitals won.

They’ll almost certainly finish in the top Wild Card spot, which means they’ll face the Atlantic Division winner in the opening round. In that respect, they’ll likely get a more favorable matchup, but every team wants to finish as high as possible.

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has missed the last six games because of a hip injury. Antti Raanta has had some good moments during Lundqvist’s absence, but the Rangers have gone just 2-3-1. They’ve also given up three goals or more in four of those six contests.

The Rangers have also been in a funk at home, as they’ve dropped six straight games at Madison Square Garden. Their last victory there came on Feb. 19 against Washington. They’re just 19-15-3 at MSG this season. Thankfully for them, they have the best road record in the NHL at 26-9-1.

“We’ve got to win a couple there and get the feeling of it in our building,” said defenseman Marc Staal, per the New York Post. “On the road, we find ways to win. We have to bring that mentality into our games at home. We got away from that at some point and we’ve got to get back to it.”

As for the Islanders, they did a good job surviving that nine-game road trip that ended Mar. 11, but they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch since then. In the four games they’ve played since the trip ended, the Isles have gone 1-2-1.

On a positive note, they should be pretty fresh coming into this game. The Islanders haven’t played since losing a 3-2 OT decision to the Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

With 11 games remaining, they find themselves three points behind Toronto for the last Wild Card spot in the East. Both teams have played the same number of games and have the same number of victories in regulation/overtime.

“It should be a good atmosphere, probably a good game for us to have, too — to get that emotion going that we’ll need to play with the rest of the way here,” forward Andrew Ladd said, per Newsday.

The Islanders will probably be doing a lot of scoreboard watching, as the Maple Leafs take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.