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Rangers' chances hurt if Lundqvist is lost

New York not same team without franchise goaltender

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- It seems as if the New York Rangers are trying to make themselves believe the unbelievable. They really have no other choice.

Backup goalie Antti Raanta might have to start Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) if Henrik Lundqvist's right eye injury is deemed too severe for him to play.

Lundqvist is seeing a specialist here Thursday afternoon. He will have to practice Friday in order to play Saturday.

The Rangers are bracing for the possibility he won't, and they're saying the right things to throw the full weight of their confidence behind Raanta, despite the obvious discrepancy in experience and, frankly, ability to both stop the puck and get in the opponents' heads.

Raanta's first appearance in a Stanley Cup Playoff game came at the start of the second period at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday, when Lundqvist was removed because of the eye injury he sustained late in the first. Raanta allowed three goals on 19 shots and New York lost 5-2.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm1: Lundqvist shaken up in 1st, later exits

Lundqvist has started 111 consecutive playoff games for the Rangers, a streak that is nearly 10 years old (April 26, 2006) and, for the first time in a long time, in jeopardy of ending. Entering Game 1, he was 7-1 with a .954 save percentage and 1.34 goals-against average in his past eight playoff appearances against Pittsburgh.

"It's not like everything's over," forward Rick Nash said. 

No, of course not. One game does not make a series, which is why the Rangers gave off the optimistic, everything-is-fine vibe Thursday morning, when Nash, center Derek Stepan, defenseman Keith Yandle and coach Alain Vigneault met with the media at the team hotel. 

There were no long faces and nobody was asking anybody to feel sorry for them. Vigneault even left open the possibility Lundqvist could play Saturday, saying the team doesn't think the injury is too serious and the results of his exam Thursday would determine his availability.

Vigneault said the Rangers recalled Magnus Hellberg from Hartford of the American Hockey League in case the results of that exam aren't good.

"[Raanta] is a goaltender that has played extremely well for us down the stretch," Stepan said, "and we have 100 percent confidence in him."

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm1: Raanta robs Schultz on the doorstep

That's well and good, but it's frankly hard to believe the potential of having Raanta in net instead of Lundqvist to start Game 2 doesn't have some sort of psychological effect on the Rangers as a whole, especially now, when they're already down 1-0 in the best-of-7 series.

Lundqvist is their MVP, backbone and one of the most important players in Rangers history. On most nights, the Rangers are only as good as he is. Because he's excellent, they have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference for a long time. 

This is New York's sixth consecutive season in the playoffs, and Lundqvist gets most of the credit for that. Raanta is the third backup goalie Lundqvist has played with in this playoff streak and the fifth backup Lundqvist has played with since he started his own streak of consecutive playoff starts 10 years ago.

"It's just a matter of getting behind Raanta," Nash said. "We trust him. We're behind him. He can get the job done."

There's reason to believe he can. Raanta was solid for the Rangers all season with a 2.24 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 25 appearances. 

Not only that, the Penguins provided some hope for the Rangers on Wednesday by winning with their third goalie, Jeff Zatkoff, who made 35 saves to win Game 1. 

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm1: Lundqvist makes a pad stop early in 1st

Zatkoff started because No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury was still unable to play because of a concussion and because No. 2 Matthew Murray, who moved ahead of Zatkoff on the depth chart midway through the season, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

He made his moment count. 

"It's the same for both teams," Vigneault said. 

Except it's not. It's just different when it comes to Lundqvist. Losing him to injury is to the Rangers what losing Carey Price was to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against New York two years ago.

The Canadiens extended the series to six games behind Dustin Tokarski, but they never fully recovered. 

"I think [Raanta] has been great all year," Nash said. "I think he can fill the shoes."

That's what Nash has to say and it's what the Rangers have to believe. It's just hard to believe they really do.

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