CALGARY - An undisclosed injury to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist that kept him from starting as scheduled against the Flames here last night overshadowed the anticipation of the first meeting between Sean Avery and defenseman Dion Phaneuf since the left wing's controversial comments about his ex-girlfriends last December.
Less than 24 hours after coach John Tortorella declared that the team's No. 1 netminder would start the finale of this three-game trip, he reversed gears and said backup Steve Valiquette would be in the net for his second consecutive game.
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"Vally is going. It's just rest for Hank," was all Tortorella repeated, but Lundqvist later said he was nagged by an injury, believed to be a groin or muscle strain.
Lundqvist (8-5-1, 2.52 GAA), who allowed three goals in a 4-1 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday, had been seen with an ice pack on his upper right thigh, which he described to Newsday as "stiff," but Saturday, both goalies participated in the morning skate at the Saddledome.
In the post-skate briefing, Tortorella confirmed that Valiquette would play his third game this season, but offered no other explanation except "rest for Hank," and became irritated when pressed.
Meanwhile, Valiquette, who had said he didn't expect to play for awhile after making 26 saves in the 4-2 victory Tuesday in Edmonton, confirmed that he was told in the morning that he would start. Lundqvist said that when he took the ice in the morning, "I knew I wasn't playing."
When Lundqvist emerged from the trainers room after about an hour of treatment, he said he was "pretty confident" that he would play against Atlanta on Thursday, a nine-day layoff.
"It's just a minor little thing that's been bugging me," he said, "so it's a good time to get a break, we're not playing until Thursday, so a couple days off here and be good to go."
Lundqvist would not be specific about the injury, except to say it wasn't related to any recent collisions in the crease. He acknowledged that if it were a playoff game, would probably dress. "Yeah, I would say so. This is more for the long run. It's a long year, so I'm gonna try to stay fresh. This is a good decision, I think."
Tortorella has said that he wanted Valiquette (2-1, 2.63 GAA) to start more games than the dozen last season to ease the workload of Lundqvist, who will play for Team Sweden in the Olympics in February. But clearly, this substitution was unplanned until Saturday morning.
Before the news of the switch became known, the buzz was about Avery's return to the scene where his remarks led to a six-game suspension and ended his stay with the Stars, who had given him a four-year, $14.4 million contract. Avery, who apologized and underwent counseling afterward, told Newsday on Friday that he wasn't thinking about the return here and had moved on.
Phaneuf hasn't spoken to reporters about it recently.
But Flames captain Jarome Iginla said: "It's awhile ago and Avery paid a price, he was out for a while. But I'm sure if Dion gets a chance to run him over - he'd probably run him over anyway - I'm sure he'll finish it and probably vice versa, that's the way they play."