LAS VEGAS — With 41 games played and 41 left on the schedule before Tuesday’s faceoff against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Rangers were roughly where they were projected to be this season by most accounts. But Henrik Lundqvist still believes his team is capable of better.
He has to.
“We just have to continue believing that we’re a good team and we have to work hard,’’ the 36-year-old goaltender said after a strenuous on-ice workout at T-Mobile Arena Tuesday morning. “I think we are where a lot of people expected us to be (a record of 17-17-7, for 41 points) and, realistically, maybe where we should be.
“But that being said, I think we should aim to get higher. We should aim to get in [the playoffs]. That should be our goal.’’
The playoffs may seem like a pipe dream after the Rangers lost three straight games — by an aggregate score of 18-3 — before playing the Golden Knights, , who were 26-15-4 (56 points) coming in.
Lundqvist started two of the games in the losing streak. He allowed 11 goals, on 50 shots, over 81:18 in those two games and was pulled from both. The 11 goals inflated his goals-against average over 3.00 (it was 3.04 Tuesday) and his save percentage dropped to .909.
He took heart, though, in that the Rangers had won two road games before the losing streak and were feeling good about themselves before last Wednesday’s 7-2 loss to Pittsburgh. And while he said that loss “set us back a little bit,’’ he remains hopeful things can turn back positive just as quickly as they turned negative.
“We just need to correct a few things,’’ he said.
Madison Square Garden executive chairman and chief executive officer James Dolan, who visited practice Monday and said he would stick around to watch Tuesday’s game, heaped praise on Lundqvist in an interview Monday with the two traveling beat writers who cover the team.
Dolan said Lundqvist had proven this season he can still “carry a team,’’ and said the Rangers still can dream about making the playoffs because Lundqvist has kept them in the race. He added that the difference between the rebuilding Rangers and the rebuilding Knicks (who entered Tuesday’s game against Golden State with a 10-30 record) is that “the Knicks don’t have a Henrik.’’
Lundqvist said he appreciated Dolan’s words.
“He’s always been very supportive, I think, since I got here,’’ Lundqvist said of Dolan. “But at the same time, you know — everybody knows, in here — when we win, it’s 20 guys; it’s not one guy, or two guys.’’
Lundqvist always has thrived with a heavy workload, but given the way things have gone the past week, he was asked if he thought he might benefit from a little more rest in the second half.
“I think it’s all depending on the situation,’’ he said after a pause. “How the games are played, how I play. There’s a lot of things you have to put into consideration when you decide to play or not to play. That’s why you should never focus on the number (of games). You need to look at what’s going on — how the team’s doing; how you’re doing.
“So, I can’t say more or less,’’ he said. “It’s more, just, earn your ice time, and you take it game by game.’’