SUNRISE, Fla. -- When practice drew to a close, Henrik Lundqvist didn't linger for extra work. He skated to the visiting locker room at BB & T Center and began peeling off his equipment.
"This year I've been managing my practices, I don't stay out that long," said Lundqvist, who will start his 12th consecutive game and 41st of the season against the Panthers tonight and has been an absolute workhorse this shortened season.
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Lundqvist has played 2,394 minutes, only 66 behind the league leader, San Jose's Antti Niemi, and is third in goals- against average (2.08) and save percentage (.927) among goalies who have played more than 20 games.
"It's been a test, it really has," said Lundqvist, who recalled that last season, when he started 62 games, he would play three or four in a row and Martin Biron, who started 20 games, then would step in.
Not so this time, when Lundqvist has been asked to hold the fort in the playoff push. And, Lundqvist, who turned 31 in March, has responded. He has allowed two or fewer goals in 14 of his last 16 games and the Rangers are 8-2-1 in his last 11 starts. And to put his career in perspective, with 274 wins, he recently passed Ed Giacomin for second place in franchise history and likely will surpass Mike Richter's 301 next season.
But this campaign has been far from easy. "That extra day [last year] between games, sometimes you get two days, it makes a big difference," he said. "When you play every other day and you have a back-to-back in there as well . . . All you do is prepare for the game, you play the game, you recover from the game and start over . . .
"It's mental now; you think about something else, family, friends, then you come back to the rink recharged. I don't mind it, though. I don't think they want to change the lineup. We'll see. Maybe I'll get a break this week, but I know I'm going [Tuesday night].''
The eighth-place Rangers, with 52 points and three games to play, are one point ahead of Winnipeg, which beat Buffalo last night.
Lundqvist, who won the Vezina Trophy last year and did not play in Europe during the lockout, said he knew before the season that the schedule was "going to be intense. But I had such a long break, I don't feel that tired. You try to look at it as positive as possible. As a group, we're in a good flow. The good thing is, we do our job and we're in. If we make it, I'll have the time to get some rest. You set the bar high; we just don't want to get in. I hope we have a couple more months of hockey."
Notes & quotes: With the Connecticut Whale failing to qualify for the AHL playoffs, a group of players is expected to join the team as a sort of non-playing taxi squad, as was the case last season, president and general manager Glen Sather confirmed. The contingent is expected to include J.T. Miller, Kris Newbury and Dylan McIlrath . . . Brian Boyle (right leg) did not skate and will miss his fourth straight game.