Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
On iPhones around MSG Training Center on Monday, there was Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, smiling on Twitter and saying he felt dandy after missing six games because of post-concussion symptoms.
On ice, there was feisty but diminutive Rangers assistant equipment manager Tim Webb in net after Henrik Lundqvist departed on two separate occasions for the dressing room.
Lundqvist did not address reporters, but coach Alain Vigneault insisted he merely was under the weather and should be back at practice Tuesday and ready to go for Game 1 of the playoffs against the Penguins on Wednesday night, so all this likely will soon be forgotten.
But still . . .
The contrasting images in Western Pennsylvania and West chester County were a reminder of how important goalies are in general to the fragile, fluid NHL playoff picture — and to the Rangers in particular.
Fleury, a former Stanley Cup winner, is very good, and the surging Penguins will be even more formidable if he returns to game action this week.
Lundqvist, never a Cup winner, is a future Hall of Famer, and the up-and-down Blueshirts would be sunk without him.
So do feel better, Hank, not only for the sake of the Rangers and their fans but for yourself.
At age 34, now with six consecutive playoff berths and four consecutive first-round series victories on his resume, The King is much closer to the end of his reign than the beginning.
His career often has been compared to that of the Knicks’ Patrick Ewing a sports generation earlier, a pair of New York sports megastars without a championship.
But one difference is that Ewing was not sufficiently appreciated by many fans until he was gone. The same cannot be said of Lundqvist, even after an uncharacteristically — at times wildly — inconsistent regular season.
At playoff time, he generally can be counted upon to at least keep the Rangers in games, which was why Monday’s initially mysterious ailment was cause for temporary alarm.
“I think he had another outstanding season,” Vigneault said. “In parts of this season, he was, probably at some point, the best goaltender in the league. As you know, his will and his will to win, you can’t measure it. That is why he loves the game so much.
“I think the rest of our team is looking forward to this challenge. Him as much as anybody else that’s playing for us right now understands that ‘B’ won’t do it. We’re going to need our ‘A’ game.”
Before Vigneault assured everyone that Lundqvist’s availability is not in serious jeopardy, reporters asked backup Antti Raanta whether he is ready to go if needed. He said he is.
The former Rockford IceHog, 26, played in 24 games this season and went 11-6-2 with a 2.25 goals-against average.
“It’s nice to go into the playoffs and if something happens, you know you’re ready to play, so it’s a good feeling,” he said, adding that his workload was roughly what was planned for him last autumn.
Raanta, a Finn, grew up one country over from Lundqvist’s Sweden, admiring him from not too far away. Consider him as unconcerned as Vigenault about the starter’s inconsistent season.
“It’s not easy when there are 82 games,” he said. “It’s not easy to keep that thing going every game. Sometimes you get bad days and sometimes you get good days. That’s just part of hockey and part of being a goalie.
“I think he has been the best player on our team. If you see the big picture, he won so many games for us. He’s been such a big part of why we are in the playoffs.”
Just watching Lundqvist, Raanta said, has been an education in the mysterious art of netminding.
“It has been a great season so far for me to learn from one of the best,” he said, “and hopefully to learn a little bit more.”
In other words: Get well soon, Hank!