With three games remaining on the schedule, coach Alain Vigneault is balancing health with readiness, as he looks to get his lineup back to 100 percent while also preparing for what is expected to be a collision course with the Montreal Canadiens in the opening-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Vigneault is opting for health Wednesday night when Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Jesper Fast will all miss New York's tilt with the NHL-leading Washington Capitals. Vigneault said all four players are day-to-day with "bumps and bruises," though none of the injuries will prevent them for being ready for the start of the playoffs, which is expected to begin a week from tomorrow.
"They've all been playing through certain bumps and bruises," Vigneault told reporters after the team's practice. "So we can at this time give them a couple days here but I'm not exactly sure how things are going to unfold here."
In their absences, Vigneault inserted Pavel Buchnevich into Zuccarello's spot with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Brandon Pirri will skate with Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey. The Kevin Hayes unit with J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner was reunited, while Oscar Lindberg will skate between Matt Puempel and Tanner Glass.
With McDonagh out, Vigneault said he was still contemplating what his defensive pairs would look like.
Henrik Lundqvist will get the start for the Blueshirts, and despite it being nearly impossible for the Rangers to move up in the standings, the netminder is calling the final week of the season an important one for New York.
"It's a big week for us to work on everything that's been helping us so far throughout the year," he said. "A lot of detail in our own end, the way we forecheck. Personally, the way you move, the way you read the game, everything. You try to go over it right now. You try to take it game-by-game. Obviously tomorrow is a pretty tough test for us against the best team in the League right now and try to get some points."
Wednesday night will mark Lundqvist's fourth game since returning from a hip injury that cost him about three weeks in March. He's 1-1-2, but said he's feeling more confident with each start.
A problem this season has been the start and stop of the season and injuries, including the Christmas break, the bye week and then All Star weekend. Goaltenders are known as being creatures of habit, but there's been anything but for Lundqvist throughout stretches of this season.
"Personally I can feel the improvements," he said. "Each game you get more and more comfortable. Throughout the years, I've been used to playing a lot and getting into a nice flow where you don't have to work as hard to find your focus and your overall good feeling when you're out there. For every game, you get closer to that."