GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Henrik Lundqvist was working at game speed, facing shots and rebounds from his teammates in his first full practice in two weeks since straining a hip muscle against the Florida Panthers.
That is, until goaltending coach Benoit Allaire gave him the signal.
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“I want to be out there for a couple hours now, but Benny closed me down,” Lundqvist said Monday. “Ben is kind of the police there; he tells me to get off the ice, even if I want to stay out there. But it’s definitely moving in the right direction, and now it’s at the stage where I can really go 100 percent . . . Every day here, I’m increasing the time on the ice and how hard I go; we’ll see the next couple of days if we can shoot for Saturday.”
The Rangers will visit Staples Center in Los Angeles that day. If that target date doesn’t work, they will visit Anaheim on Sunday and San Jose two days later.
Either way, the team’s No. 1 goalie is on the cusp of returning. “I would expect him [to play] on the California trip,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
So Lundqvist won’t play in the next two games, including the last regular-season meeting with the Islanders on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
In his absence, Antti Raanta has stepped in ably, going 2-2-1 and allowing only 13 goals in regulation and overtime (a 2.60 goals-against average). Vigneault said he expects to start the same lineup as in the 3-2 win in Minnesota on Saturday, which means the Kid Line of Jimmy Vesey, Oscar Lindberg and Pavel Buchnevich (four points against the Wild) will be deployed. “I liked the energy,” Vig neault said.
As for Lundqvist, while skating with the spares the last couple of days, “I’ve been feeling really good, getting my speed back,” said the goalie, who is 30-17-2 with a 2.65 GAA and .913 save percentage. “I think it’s important that I feel 100 percent. Physically, I feel great. Now it’s getting the timing right and being on top of your game and playing well. It’s tough, you want to push yourself, but not be out there too long and risk anything.”
Notes & quotes: Defensemen Dan Girardi (ankle) and Kevin Klein (back) practiced, and Vigneault said they will make the West Coast trip . . . If they don’t clinch a playoff berth in California, the Rangers (45-24-3, 93 points) will have five games left when they return . . . The Devils edged the Rangers in overtime, 4-3, in the last visit to Newark on Feb. 25 . . . Backup goalie Magnus Hellberg remains with the team but will be returned to the minors when Lundqvist is ready.