GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Maple Leafs, who triggered the Rangers three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden six days ago when both teams were coming off the NHL-mandated five-day “bye”, will face them on home ice Thursday.
In the loss, which came after the pregame ceremony honoring New York City Police Detective Steven McDonald, an inspirational officer and gentleman who had been buried earlier that day, the Leafs, (now 21-13-8 and just seven points behind the Rangers) displayed very little rust and the Blueshirts seemed drained by the buildup and the events.
The Rangers have been inconsistent since, allowing three goals in 62 shocking seconds in a 5-4 loss in Montreal and bowed 7-6 to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, undone by shoddy defensive zone play and subpar goaltending by slumping Henrik Lundqvist.
Will it be déjà vu all over again at Air Canada Centre?
“Hank has had some moments in the past, probably never to this degree. So he’s in new territory, we’re in new territory,” coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday after practice at the team’s training center in Greenburgh before flying to Toronto.
The spotlight has been on Lundqvist, who has looked off-balance, undecided and jumpy. But the defensive structure has failed him in this collective malaise.
“To win, you need to have all your parts working,” Lundqvist said. “I think we all know we can score, we just need to take care of our own end . . . mistakes happen and it’s my job to clean it up. We’ve got to help each other to try to turn it around. There’s no shortcuts. I also know, having been through this, it can change pretty fast; you need a good game, something to build off.”
Notes & quotes: Jesper Fast, out for an estimated seven-to-10 days with an upper-body injury, will be replaced by Oscar Lindberg. Fast was receiving treatment on his left shoulder after Tuesday’s game . . . Kevin Hayes took a maintenance day and did not practice, but Vigneault said he would play against the Leafs . . . Chris Kreider was fined $5,000 for hitting Stars’ Cody Eakin with his helmet during a second-period fight . . . Matt Puempel, recovering from concussion symptoms, practiced with the team for the first time since he was injured on New Year’s Eve in Colorado, but did not make the trip.