Henrik Lundqvist set to return Sunday against the Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. - There are warm breezes and streaks of sunshine here, but the sub-.500 Rangers won't be bringing tie-dyed T-shirts, beads or psychedelic tunes to the rink Sunday -- unless they want another tongue-lashing from the coach.
The last time these two clubs met here Nov. 25, the Lightning embarrassed the visiting Rangers, 5-0, which prompted Alain Vigneault to scorch his troops.
"It was sort of a Martin St. Louis love-fest out there," Vigneault said. "Nobody touched a soul . . . It was a big no-hitter."
In that loss, which dropped the Rangers to 12-12, St. Louis scored twice and Henrik Lundqvist -- who will be back in the net Sunday after sitting out the previous three games -- was the victim of defensive breakdowns that led to four goals before Cam Talbot relieved him at the start of the third period.
The Rangers (18-19-2) have shown more grit and effort throughout the lineup during their current 3-2-1 stretch. Lundqvist, who has allowed at least three goals in seven straight starts and is lugging around a 2.77 GAA and a .905 save percentage, badly wants to turn his season around, starting Sunday with the second game of this five-game road trip, which continues Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.
Talbot, who has played 12 games in his NHL career, earned Lundqvist's praise, but there is little doubt from recent conversations that the Swedish netminder will be battling to return to his lofty standards in the second half of the season.
"I want to be out there . . . The bottom line is I just need to stop the puck more," Lundqvist said Friday. "That's my goal. I can promise you I work as hard as I can. I just hope it's going to turn around."
Against the Lightning, Lundqvist will be behind a weary defense corps that could include Conor Allen making his NHL debut. Anton Stralman, who did not practice Saturday, left after the first period Friday with an undisclosed injury, forcing Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto to play more than 24 minutes each.
Allen, 23, who is 6-3, 210 pounds, had seven points in his last seven games in Hartford. He played three years at Massachusetts before going undrafted, and the Rangers signed the lefthanded blueliner to an entry-level contract March 29. He appeared in three games during training camp and Vigneault said Saturday that the coaches liked his skill level and hockey sense.
"We felt that with a little bit of work in the minors, hopefully at some point, he'd be able to come in and help us out." he said.
Notes & quotes: D Marc Staal, steadily progressing after a Dec. 7 concussion, practiced again Saturday but will not play Sunday . . . Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, who played through the flu in Friday's 3-2 loss in Washington, rested Saturday . . . Ryan Callahan, recovering from an MCL sprain in his left knee 18 days ago, was in full uniform for practice for the first time but remains out indefinitely.