PHOENIX — You can bet Henrik Lundqvist will be happy for the year 2016 to end.
The Rangers goaltender will miss his second consecutive start Thursday while battling the flu, so the team’s No. 1 netminder might bring the curtain down in Denver on New Year’s Eve against the Avalanche.
Lundqvist, who began feeling ill Monday, practiced Wednesday before the Blueshirts (24-12-1) flew here, but coach Alain Vigneault didn’t like what he saw from the veteran and declared there was a “less than 50-50” chance he would play against the Coyotes (11-19-5), who have lost five straight.
“I haven’t talked to Hank, but he’d been real sick,” Vigneault said. “It was his first time on ice in (five) days. I was watching his energy level on the ice, and it seemed like he was looking for his legs, his arms and everything else.” Lundqvist plans to practice at Gila River Arena Thursday morning.
Last spring in the playoffs, Lundqvist was 1-3, with a 4.87 GAA and a dreadful .867 save percentage in the five-game, first-round elimination at the hands of the Penguins. Lundqvist played well in the World Cup of Hockey in September, but Team Sweden lost in the semifinals.
Since the season started, Lundqvist has been spotty and pulled three times, although he won three in a row against Dallas, Nashville and the Devils this month.
The team returned goalie Brandon Halverson, summoned for Tuesday’s game, to Hartford, because Lundqvist can back up Antti Raanta, who will start for the third time in four games and seventh in 11. Raanta, 9-4-0 in 13 starts, allowed two quick Senators goals in the first period on Tuesday, but finished with 33 saves in the 4-3 win.
Rick Nash will also be sidelined Thursday with a groin injury suffered on Dec. 18, but he is on the trip, and plans to skate. The Coyotes game will be the fourth that he has missed. The power forward also sat four games when he injured the other side of his groin against the Islanders on Dec. 6.
Winger Pavel Buchnevich, who has played just 10 games because of back issues, skated again in a non-contact jersey. Vigneault said he will continue his program while the team is away, and hopes that the Russian rookie will be able to practice fully next week.