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Rangers, Lundqvist seek second outdoor win vs. rival

by Jon Lane

More than 24 hours after New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist savored a historic atmosphere while playing on an ice rink planted in the middle of Yankee Stadium, he was still waxing poetic about the experience.

Entering the 7-3 win Sunday against the New Jersey Devils -- a game that came with considerable hype -- Lundqvist had intentions of looking around and appreciating his surroundings, which he also got to take in during the team's family skate Saturday.

Henrik Lundqvist
Goalie - NYR
RECORD: 18-18-3
GAA: 2.54 | SVP: 0.914
For Lundqvist and the Rangers, playing outdoors provided a break in the routine, creating a unique wrinkle before a game that had important ramifications in the Metropolitan Division.

"It's hard because everything is different," Lundqvist told NHL Live on Monday. "We play 82 games and you have your routines and everything looks exactly the same every night. Now when you have something like this, there's so much new stuff to take in. But it is an experience for life, I think, to take it all in. It's just a fun thing to be part of."

For many, the NHL outdoor experience is once in a lifetime. But the Rangers will get to do it twice in the same week. They will face off Wednesday against the New York Islanders at Yankee Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS2), becoming the first team in League history to play two games outdoors in one season.

As was the case Sunday in the Bronx, earning two points against a division rival will be paramount, and the Rangers were successful in that endeavor with a victory against New Jersey off the strength of Lundqvist's 19 saves and six unanswered goals.

At 28-23-3, the Rangers sit in second place in the Metropolitan, but the race is tight. Seven points separate the third-place Carolina Hurricanes and the last-place Islanders, who, after a slow start that saw them lose 10 straight games late November through early December, have roared back into contention with a 10-5-1 record since Dec. 29. They are 0-2-1 since defeating the Rangers on Jan. 21, however.

"It's another big game for us," Lundqvist said. "The Islanders are playing really well. They're a skilled team, and you have to really respect that when you play them."

The Islanders will be arriving to the Bronx with reinforcements. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky returned to the lineup Monday after missing more than three months with a concussion. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov was activated from injured reserve and could get the start Wednesday. The veterans fortify a team that's 2-1-0 against the Rangers this season, winning each by a 5-3 score, with the most recent victory coming last Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

"Their transition game is really strong, especially their top line," Lundqvist said. "They have so much skill, they can turn just a small chance into something big because of their skill. You have to play them hard."

Play hard and dominate is what Lundqvist and the Rangers did Sunday after the goalie literally awakened from an early slumber. With the start of the game delayed by sun glare and ice conditions, Lundqvist took a nap once informed warmups would commence at 2:00 or 2:30 p.m. He was soon awakened and told warmups were at 1 p.m., which left him "fighting it a little bit" for much of the first period.

"I was somewhere else, mentally, half-asleep," Lundqvist said. "It was a quick turnaround, but it was amazing. Going out there to the warmups, I thought that was the best feeling. The first time you walk out, you can hear the crowd and you see everything. You can just take it all in. It was awesome."

Sixteen minutes into the game, the Rangers were down 3-1, and Lundqvist was left wondering if his minutes were numbered.

"After that third goal, I didn't have the best thoughts going through my head, but I also realized I need to stop the next shot, that's all I have to focus on right now, go through this period and regroup," Lundqvist said. "That's what I did, and as a team we came out in the second period and played outstanding hockey.

"It was a challenge, I think, for me and the team. That's what felt so good after the game, the way we responded. It is a special game, and you want to be able to look back at this as a great memory. You need to win the game for it to be a great memory."

The Rangers hope to double their pleasure Wednesday.

"It was awesome," Lundqvist said, "and the best part of it is we have one more game to really go out and to take it all in."

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