GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Still smarting from back-to-back losses over the weekend, the Rangers will get a boost Tuesday night when center Mika Zibanejad returns to action against the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden.
Zibanejad, who missed the past 25 games with a broken leg, last played Nov. 20, when he scored a goal in the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers. He suffered a broken fibula in overtime in that game.
“It’s been a long time coming,’’ Zibanejad said after practicing with the team Monday. “I’ve watched a lot of games, counting down the days to this, and [I’m] one more sleep away from it.’’
Zibanejad, acquired from the Ottawa Senators last summer in the Derick Brassard trade, got off to a fast start with the Rangers and had five goals and 10 assists in 19 games at the time of his injury.
At practice Monday, he skated with Rick Nash and rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who returned from injuries of their own recently. Coach Alain Vigneault said he will start the game with that threesome together and make in-game adjustments as necessary.
Vigneault said backup goaltender Antti Raanta, who suffered a lower-body injury in Saturday night’s 5-4 loss to Montreal, will be out of commission for seven to 10 days. It is possible that Raanta will return before the All-Star break, but Vigneault said that would be unlikely.
Vigneault said the plan is for Henrik Lundqvist to play each of the Rangers’ five remaining games before the break.
Lundqvist, who relieved Raanta and gave up all five goals in the loss to Montreal, has lost two straight games and given up nine goals in his last five periods and 19 in his last five games. He is 18-11-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage this season, and Vigneault acknowledged that he has played him more than he originally had hoped in an effort to help the goaltender find his consistency.
“Hank’s played some real great hockey for us this year in some games, and some other games, he hasn’t been as consistent,’’ Vigneault said. “And that’s the issue right now. But the body of work that he’s had throughout his career tells us that he’s going to find the answer and become the goaltender that we know.’’
The Rangers called up goalie Magnus Hellberg from AHL Hartford to back up Lundqvist and assigned forward Marek Hrivik to Hartford.
Notes & quotes: Vigneault said defenseman Marc Staal and left wing Matt Puempel, both dealing with concussions, skated before Monday’s practice.