Henrik Lundqvist

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Hawks seek revenge for Rangers’ OT win

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The first game of that series will see the New York Rangers host the Chicago Blackhawks, starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. The Kings and Ducks square off at 10:30 in the nightcap. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the games and pre-show online.

The Chicago Blackhawks have only lost once this month and it was to the New York Rangers. Goaltenders Corey Crawford and Cam Talbot were perfect through 60 minutes when these two squads met for the first time this season on March 8 and it took a Derick Brassard marker 32 seconds into overtime to end the contest in the Rangers’ favor.

“It’s two good teams going at it, fighting for big points right now,” Talbot said at the time, per NHL.com. “They’re trying to climb spots in their division, same as we are, so it’s going to be a battle going down the stretch against teams like that. Every point is huge right now, so it was great we came out with the extra one tonight.”

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A week and a half later, that statement is still largely true. With 90 points in 69 contests, Chicago has the third seed in the Central Division, but is still within striking distance of the Nashville Predators (94 points in 72 contests) and St. Louis Blues (95 points in 70 games). Securing home-ice advantage for as deep into the playoffs as possible could be big given how many dangerous teams there are in the West this season. Beyond that, the simple act of going into the playoffs with momentum on their side could end up being the difference for the Blackhawks.

The main difference is the Rangers are no longer chasing their division rivals. They’ve won five straight to improve to 44-17-7 while the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins have slumped, giving the Rangers a significant edge in the Metropolitan Division race. At this point, the bigger question for the Rangers is whether or not they’ll win the Presidents’ Trophy. That battle couldn’t be tighter right now as the Rangers are tied with the Blues, Anaheim Ducks, and Montreal Canadiens in terms of points. The Nashville Predators (94 points in 72 games) and Tampa Bay Lightning (93 points in 71 contests) are still in the running too.

The Rangers success has been made even more impressive by the fact that they’ve been missing former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist since Feb. 2. Chicago has preserved through similar hardship due to the loss of Patrick Kane.

This is the last time these two teams are scheduled to face each other, although given the strength of their respective rosters and past playoff success, this might end up being a Stanley Cup preview.

The King is back: Lundqvist cleared to return to Rangers practice

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Henrik Lundqvist took a significant step towards returning from a vascular injury on Tuesday, as the Rangers announced he’s been medically cleared to return to practice.

Lundqvist, who suffered the injury in late January and hasn’t played since Feb. 2, will begin skating with teammates in the hope of getting back into game action. Per yesterday’s report from The Hockey News, the 33-year-old netminder is targeting his return date on Mar. 24 against Los Angeles — a rematch of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

When ready, Lundqvist will rejoin a Blueshirts team that’s thrived in his absence. While some figured the club would take a step back with Cam Talbot as its No. 1 netminder, New York has done the opposite — in 20 games sans-Lundqvist the Rangers have gone a remarkable 15-2-3, vaulting atop the NHL standings.

Another injury blow for Rangers: St. Louis (lower body) out 10-14 days

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The streaking New York Rangers took another hit in the health department on Monday, as the club revealed Martin St. Louis could miss up to two weeks with a lower-body injury, suffered Sunday against Florida.

Per Newsday, St. Louis is believed to have suffered a right knee injury, which may have happened in this sequence:

As the Bergen Record notes, it looks as though St. Louis told trainer Jim Ramsey he felt a “pop” in the knee.

The 39-year-old veteran has 20 goals and 47 points in 68 games this year, averaging over 17-and-a-half minutes per night. Now, he’ll join two other key veterans on the shelf: Henrik Lundqvist, who is still dealing with a vascular injury, and Kevin Klein, who’s out 3-4 weeks with an arm injury.

Assuming St. Louis misses the full two weeks, that would put him on target for a Mar. 30 return — meaning he’d miss the next seven games, including a game on Mar. 24 against Los Angeles, which is a rematch of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final (on NBCSN.)

That game, not coincidentally, is when Lundqvist is rumored to return to the Rangers lineup.

Report: Rangers targeting March 24 for Lundqvist return

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A source “close to the New York Rangers” has told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News that the club is preparing for star goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make his return next week, on March 24.

The Rangers host the Kings that night (on NBCSN), with 10 regular-season games to go after that.

Lundqvist hasn’t played since Feb. 2 due to a vascular injury. Fortunately for the Blueshirts, backup Cam Talbot has done just fine in the No. 1’s spot, winning 13 games and, today, earning the NHL’s second star for the past week.

Of course, while the Rangers haven’t struggled for wins without Lundqvist, they’ll still want him back in time to get into a groove for the playoffs, which start Apr. 15.

Rangers lead NHL standings after Talbot torments Panthers

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When New York Rangers GM Glen Sather went all-in at the trade deadline, he was probably envisioning something like this.

After beating the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Sunday, the Rangers are clearly the top team in the Eastern Conference at the moment and hold tiebreakers over whichever West team wins tonight’s Nashville Predators – Anaheim Ducks game.

Goaltending’s been a big part of their strong work, even if the guy you’d expect to be driving things (Henrik Lundqvist) hasn’t been healthy enough to go.

Mackenzie Skapski turned heads with his first NHL shutout on Saturday, yet Cam Talbot continues to make an argument that he can be a No. 1 goalie himself. He stopped 38 out of 39 shots for his 17th win of the 2014-15 season, and it’s pretty clear that New York leaned heavily upon him today:

The Rangers now have 95 standings points, which seats them five points ahead against the New York Islanders (who have played three more games than the Rangers). The Blueshirts also have a seven-point lead and one game in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins, so a division title looks very likely as of this writing.

(The Rangers also have a two-point edge and game in hand on Montreal for the East’s No. 1 spot, so … yeah, it’s a pretty rosy situation right now.)

Is this to say the Rangers are perfect? No, it’s probably fair to wonder if this remarkable run of goaltending might hit a brick wall in the postseason. One could probably strain to find other negatives here and there.

Still, the Rangers are looking like a force in the East right now, and Talbot is a big reason why.

They do, however, have to keep an eye on Martin St. Louis’ injury situation. Read more about that here.