After missing the last month-and-a-half, Henrik Lundqvist got medical clearance on Tuesday to return to action. But since everyone agrees he needs some intense practice before he plays, and because there aren't many opportunities to practice available in the next week or so, it'll still be a while before the Rangers goaltender is back playing games.
"If I look at our schedule, the next eight days, we only have two full team practices, [tomorrow] and Wednesday, before we leave for Ottawa," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said before the Blueshirts hosted the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night. "Getting shots from quality coaches, like he did this morning, and getting shots from players, in a practice, is probably not the same thing."
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Lundqvist, who has missed the last 21 games because of a vascular injury to his neck he suffered in a game Jan. 31, has been skating hard on his own for four weeks, the Rangers said. He has taken shots during that time, but no high ones -- at least, not until Wednesday. Now, Lundqvist said, he needs to practice at a high speed and intensity to try and get his timing down before he can play in a game.
"I'm excited to get a chance now to kind of get back into things -- it's been six long weeks," Lundqvist said.
Lundqvist said he had been given "a game plan" by the team of doctors and specialists he has been working with about his likely timetable, and everything they told him has happened as they said it would. He said he felt great the past four weeks and was frustrated he wasn't allowed to play. But he said it helped that the Rangers and his replacement in goal, Cam Talbot, were playing so well and the team was winning (15-2-3 in his absence entering Tuesday night).
Lundqvist underwent a final scan on Monday that came up clean and the doctors have told him the blood vessels that had been damaged are fully healed, he said. They also told him the risk of a stroke -- which was the reason he was shut down -- isn't there anymore.
For now, Lundqvist said he is wearing a special collar designed by the Rangers' equipment managers to prevent his neck from snapping back suddenly. He will wear it the next week or so whenever he practices, but he doubts he will wear it when he returns to games.
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, Lundqvist, who is 25-11-3 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, said he didn't know how many he would need to play to get ready for the playoffs.
"Right now, I'm just focusing on this week and trying to get back as soon as possible, and whenever the coaching staff and myself feel like it's time, I'm going to play," he said. "I just want to play games, because I miss it so much. I think more about that than trying to get ready for the playoffs."
Lundqvist hinted he may not travel with the team to Carolina for Saturday's game because his wife is expecting the couple's second child any day now. But after the Rangers return for games Sunday and Tuesday at the Garden, they go on the road for games next Thursday in Ottawa and March 28 in Boston and Lundqvist said he anticipates making that trip.