TORONTO — Hoping to begin a bounceback season in a new city, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec thought he might make his first start as a Ranger on Sunday when the Montreal Canadiens visit Madison Square Garden.
Instead, the veteran free agent who signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract to back up Henrik Lundqvist after Antti Raanta was traded to Arizona, was called upon to start the second period Saturday against the Maple Leafs after Lundqvist was pulled.
Lundqvist had been betrayed by defensive breakdowns and his own lapses, surrendering five goals on 18 shots in the first period as the Rangers trailed 5-2. Pavelec stopped all 11 shots he faced in the second period, when the Rangers rallied to tie it 5-5. But they lost, 8-5.
It was unclear whether Pavelec or Lundqvist will make that start Sunday, but in his first appearance, the Czech native did what he could to help the Rangers.
“I’m just looking forward to getting that first game,” Pavelec had said after a morning skate with three teammates before coach Alain Vigneault confirmed his choice just before Saturday’s game. “If it’s going to be tomorrow, it will be great . . . it’s going to be something special for sure, especially against Montreal.”
After a combination of injuries and better play from youngster Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg, where Pavelec had played for five years after starting his NHL career with the Atlanta Thrashers, Pavelec was sent to the AHL. The Czech native played just eight games with the Jets in 2016-17, going 4-4 with a 2.87 goals-against-average.
The back-to-back set is one of 11 that the Blueshirts will play, but Pavelec said planning for potential starts “doesn’t matter...I don’t even think about it at all. It’s up to the coach and it’s his decision when he’ll give Hank the rest. My job is to be ready whenever he tells me to play.”
Pavelec, who also is serving as a tutor/translator for 18-year-old Filip Chytil, has been working closely with goalie coach Benoit Allaire, who has helped Lundqvist, Raanta and Cam Talbot raise their mental games and sharpen techniques.
“I’ve been in New York for more than a month,” Pavelec said Saturday. “He’s got a lot of experience, it’s been fun and good for me. I’ve been in the league for 10 years, I kind of know how to get ready for games. But it’s different, for sure: new team, different system, new guys in front of me. It’s still early in the season, hopefully it’s going to get better.”