NEW YORK, N.Y. - The New York Rangers have proven they can thrive without No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Now they are even finding ways to win when leading scorer Rick Nash is sidelined, too.
With about one-quarter of the season remaining, the Rangers are in the thick of the fight for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Lundqvist's vascular injury to his neck is much more serious than the neck spasms that forced Nash to miss Tuesday night's 1-0 victory over the Calgary Flames. Lundqvist's absence is being measured in weeks. By all accounts, Nash's ailment is day-to-day.
The Rangers didn't practice on Wednesday, so there was no update on Nash's condition, but the possibility exists he could be back in the lineup Thursday against Arizona when New York completes a three-game homestand.
The Rangers certainly don't want to make a habit of playing without Nash, second in the NHL with 37 goals and first on the club with 58 points, yet they at least know that can get by without him. Tuesday's game was the first that Nash sat out all season.
"It's good to win every way," defenceman Dan Girardi said.
For the first time since Lundqvist went out of the lineup on Feb. 4 ??? four days after he was struck in the neck by a shot ??? the Rangers really relied on backup goalie Cam Talbot to deliver a win.
With the slimmest of margins to deal with, Talbot protected the late lead, a task that had become troublesome in recent days.
"I think we played really well in front of our net," Talbot said. "We didn't give up those Grade-A chances from right in the slot."
Talbot has been sharp in Lundqvist's absence, as he is 7-1-2 since assuming the top job, but the Rangers' offence clicked in the 10 games before Tuesday, recording an average of four goals per game. Including one game started and won by rookie Mackenzie Skapski, the Rangers are 8-1-2 without Lundqvist.
"We really didn't allow them to get any rebounds," captain Ryan McDonagh said of the Flames. "Talbs did a lot of good things controlling those pucks. It felt more like a prototypical Ranger game that we want to play."
A lot of that offensive punch was provided by Nash, who had four goals ??? including two game-winners ??? and six points in the six games before a bad night of sleep injured his neck. It wasn't until three hours before the opening faceoff Tuesday that the Rangers learned for sure they would have to go without Nash.
"We thought the neck might loosen up, but we got the call around 4:00 that it wasn't," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Just stiffness. He's had a lot of work on his neck, started taking some medication. We'll see."
Kevin Hayes broke up the scoreless game in the third period, and Talbot stood tall the rest of the way and finished with 21 saves for the win. Hayes went from third-line centre to Nash's place as the wing on the top line alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.
Vigneault's move paid off right away.
"I'm nothing like Rick Nash," Hayes said, "but I was lucky enough to get a goal out there."
With Lundqvist doing some on-ice work in practice, and facing some low shots, he could be inching toward a return. The original estimate had him sidelined until the first few weeks in March.
Now that the Rangers are only two points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders ??? with three games in hand ??? and three points in back of Eastern Conference-leading Montreal ??? with one game in hand ??? there is no pressure to rush Lundqvist along in his recovery.
Talbot earned his fourth shutout of the season on Tuesday and seventh in 42 NHL games. It was his first blanking since Lundqvist's injury.
"Got to give the guys a lot of credit. It was probably one of the most complete games we've played this year," Talbot said of the Rangers' third straight win.
"It's been a lot of fun to play this amount of games. I've played more in the past three weeks than I played in the first four months, so it's nice to kind of get into a rhythm now and be on the winning side and help these guys gain some points while Hank is out."