NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will make his return from a hip injury by playing two of the team's three games on its upcoming California road trip, coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday.
Lundqvist said if it were up to him he could return against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). But the Rangers are opting for patience and precaution with their injured No. 1 goalie, so Lundqvist will miss his seventh consecutive game with a muscle strain in his hip. Antti Raanta will start his seventh straight game.
The Rangers are off until their road trip begins Saturday at the Los Angeles Kings. They also play at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday and at the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
Vigneault said he hasn't decided if Lundqvist will play Saturday or Sunday.
"I feel like these extra couple days are just for a little extra safety," Lundqvist said following a morning practice at the Garden on Wednesday. "I could have been ready tonight I think, but this gives me another couple of days to work on my game. Physically I feel great, it's just the timing and to get the speed up a little bit. They gave me a game plan when it happened and we've been following it. Almost day to day I've been feeling improvement. I'm excited to get back into things. We're getting close here."
Video: NYR@FLA: Lundqvist asorbs Jagr's shot in close
Lundqvist hasn't played since March 7, when he made 43 saves in a 5-2 win at the Florida Panthers but sustained a hip injury in the process. He has been practicing for more than a week and admitted his patience is being tested.
"Last week I wanted to rush things, I wanted to get back to playing, but I think it's important that you stay smart about the whole situation," Lundqvist said. "Obviously the trainers and Benny [goalie coach Benoit Allaire] have had a lot of experience in similar injuries so they know how to set up the perfect game plan. If it was up to me I would be out there a lot longer and harder and I might hurt myself. It's been working out really well."
Vigneault admitted the Rangers' place in the standings is weighing into his decision to be patient with Lundqvist. The Rangers (45-24-4) are in position to be the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They have a 16-point cushion on the Islanders, the best non-playoff team in the East.
"I would say if we would really need him tonight he might play," Vigneault said. "That's how good he is. He's that close. He's really been working hard. I think right now it's just a matter of us being smart about this and that's what we're going to do."
Raanta is 2-2-2 with a .901 save percentage in Lundqvist's absence.
"I've been able to rest a little bit and work really hard in practice and come back in good shape and really excited to play," Lundqvist said. "If I had to choose, of course I'm going to play all the time. This happens and you just have to make the most of it and see it as an opportunity to rest up, work on your game and fine-tune things."