NASHVILLE, Tenn. - They're saying all the right things about Cam Talbot. And why wouldn't they? For the men behind the masks, confidence can bounce like pucks.
Rangers players say they are confident in Henrik Lundqvist's understudy, who, at 6-3, 205, gives them a different look from Lundqvist, if not the legacy.
On Saturday, the Rangers lost to the Predators, 3-2, in a game in which Talbot couldn't be faulted on the goals, especially a bomb by Shea Weber, who has the hardest shot in the game and stepped into a drop pass from the right circle. "I think I heard it whistle by me," said Talbot, who made 20 saves.
The Rangers wanted to sign Talbot to a longer deal, but the University of Alabama-Huntsville product opted for a one-year extension in December, perhaps giving him a shot at a coveted No. 1 role with another club in 2016-17.
The hunger could help Talbot in the next few weeks. "He's a young, 27-year-old goaltender whose been waiting a long time for a chance to play more than one game in a couple weeks," coach Alain Vigneault said.
But, and there's always a but, the Rangers -- who made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season and are counting on Lundqvist to get them back there -- need Talbot to help hold the fort for a month.
"He's our leader and our best player," Rick Nash said of Lundqvist. "But we have a lot of confidence in Cam."
Nonetheless, the Rangers were climbing in the standings with Lundqvist, who was on a roll. They were envisioning catching the Islanders and/or Penguins in February or March. But the freak play that sidelined Lundqvist with a neck injury left some uncertainty about the short-term target. Now they will need help from other teams in the race.
Talbot has proved himself in the fill-in job, to be sure, but this is a major test for him.
Will untested rookie Mackenzie Skapski, the current backup, see action for a game or two? Maybe, but the Rangers have to be considering a veteran rental in case Lundqvist is out longer than expected or Talbot falters.
In Hartford, there's former Islander Yann Danis, who does not have an NHL contract, just an AHL deal. He hasn't played in the NHL since March 10, 2013, and his numbers in Hartford aren't mind-blowing anyway (a 2.69 GAA and .915 save percentage in 17 appearances).
If Lundqvist were to return from his vascular injury in a month, say March 8, he would miss 14 games. Only six are at home, including Sunday against Dallas.
With an eight-point lead for a wild-card spot, the Rangers should be fine, even if Talbot plays the next 12 games in a row. There's only two divisional matchups and a slew of games against teams not currently in the playoff mix.
The Rangers have 64 points with 32 games left and had been on a pace to reach 106 points. But now that finish line is not as secure.
In many ways, it almost feels like the start of another season.