If there was ever a reason for the Rangers to acquire a dependable backup to play 20 games a year, it is this: The wear and tear of a season during which he appeared in 73 regular-season games plus the Olympics was costly for franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
"The inside of my knee was bothering me for the last month of the season," the Rangers goaltender told Newsday Thursday. "The outside had bothered me before, and this time it was the inside. I had it taped and started getting other treatment right after the season. Nothing invasive, mostly rest. Now I've been skating two or three times a week without equipment."
Lundqvist, tanned and looking none the worst for wear during a team-sponsored thank-you lunch in Manhattan with five season-ticket subscribers and their guests, is heading to Sweden for the rest of the month through early August. "If it [the knee] bothers me again in mid-August," he said after the gathering, "I'll get a cortisone shot."
The Rangers' offense could use a boost as well and 22-year-old Mats Zuccarello Aasen, the 5-7 Norwegian forward whom the Rangers signed in May, could help.
"I didn't see that much of him in the Olympics, but he showed he can play in smaller rinks," Lundqvist said. Zuccarello Aasen had 35 goals and 69 assists in 90 games for MoDo in the Swedish Elite League. "He played with [Peter] Forsberg, but you don't put up those kinds of numbers unless you're pretty skilled."
No one would argue that Lundqvist isn't skilled, especially Dominik Hasek. A quote from the 45-year-old Czech netminder, who just signed a deal to play with Moscow Spartak of the KHL, amused and honored The King. Asked by reporters who the strongest goalkeeper in the world was, Hasek said: "While I haven't seen the Russian goalkeepers yet, I think Henrik Lundqvist."
"Me? Really?'' Lundqvist asked. "Growing up for me, it was Hasek and Patrick Roy, so it's nice to hear him say that. But when it comes down to it, there are a lot of great goalies."
Lundqvist didn't watch the first week of the playoffs after the Rangers were eliminated by the Flyers, but "got so jealous" watching the conference finals and Finals, territory where the current Rangers haven't ventured. "You see teams grow in the playoffs," he said. "Philly, Chicago, Montreal. I don't know if it could have been us, but I'm just dying to experience that in New York."
Sean Avery also made a cameo appearance to the delight of the subscribers, who posed for photos. "An extremely sour taste remains from missing the playoffs. It intensified watching the Finals and I hope gets stronger by training camp," Avery said. But the performances, especially in the Finals, he said, "was really good for hockey because of the way they played - hard. That's what you need to do. You don't need to have a bunch of stars. They went through walls."