In the moments after the Rangers’ 3-0 home loss Tuesday to the Winnipeg Jets, Henrik Lundqvist admitted that it will be more than a little strange to see so many friends and former teammates coming at him wearing Tampa Bay Lightning uniforms Thursday night.
“I thought about it today, actually,’’ Lundqvist said of playing against former Rangers J.T. Miller, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh when the Rangers visit the Lightning. “It popped into my head. It’ll be weird to see all these guys together. We will think about it, especially in warmups. Then, when the game starts we’ll be OK.’’
The Rangers declared their intention to rebuild the team with a Feb. 8 letter to the fans and then traded away several veterans over the last few weeks. Defenseman Nick Holden was the first to go, moving up to Boston, and Michael Grabner was next, going to the Devils. Rick Nash was also traded to the Bruins, in a deal that brought back Ryan Spooner and a first round pick, and finally, Miller and McDonagh went to the Lightning at the Feb. 26 trade deadline in exchange for two prospects, two first-round picks, and forward Vladislav Namestnikov.
After that last trade, when the remaining Rangers knew this would be their team for the rest of the season, Lundqvist said, the veteran players were able to make their peace with their new reality and moved on.
“Of course, you miss [former teammates] being in the room, and making a difference for us,’’ Lundqvist said. “But you have to look forward, you can’t be stuck in the past. You’ve got to mentally just move forward, and I think [after the trade with Tampa Bay] was the time where everybody kind, ‘It’s done now. Focus on the next game.’ ’’
Playing as though a burden had been lifted from their shoulders, the Rangers then went out to win all three games of their Western Canada trip, before losing to the Jets Tuesday in their return home.
Tampa Bay has the best record in the league and Miller has fit right in, scoring two goals with three assists in four games. He had a goal and an assist in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 overtime win over Florida on Tuesday. McDonagh, who was the Rangers’ captain, has been out with a hand injury, and has not yet played for the Lightning and is unlikely to play against the Rangers.
But Callahan, who was the Rangers captain before McDonagh, will play, and so will Stralman and Girardi. That’s a lot of ex-teammates on one opponent.
“Obviously, it’ll be different, seeing those guys in different colors,’’ defenseman Brady Skjei said. “At the end of the day, it’s a hockey game, and both teams trying to win, so once we see them and once we say ‘Hi,’ it’s all business, and we’ll be looking to get two points.’’